“Giant Void” hits search for meaning on the nose

On the nose.

It’s what theatre folks call a text that says too clearly what the play (or the moment) is about, that gives away the subtext, that leaves the actors — and the audience — nothing to discover.

It’s also where a clown puts a red-orange ball that signals “comedy,” that turns a face into a mask, that says this character isn’t exactly a real person — or perhaps has a reality deeper than anybody’s face.

Kim Hamilton (above), Karla Moseley. (photo: Ammo Theatre Company)

The Giant Void in My Soul is on the nose, in the first sense. Bernardo Cubría’s text is not subtle, not clothed in metaphors nor wearing a skin of naked realism. It shows you the bones, all the time. In it, two fools encounter the existential question — the great void in the soul that can’t be named, but also can’t be forgotten, once seen, nor successfully evaded.

The Giant Void is not on the nose in the second sense — that is, the two fools (and two more who ably assist them, taking several other roles) do not wear red noses. They don’t need to. Their evocative clown makeup, their baggy white coveralls, and their nimble capering and posing put us instantly in the familiar world of clowning that goes back to Italy’s commedia dell’arte troupes (and beyond, through medieval mummers, to the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome).

While the fools clown along, assembling and reassembling a half-dozen sawhorses to create the places in their world, they speak dialog as spare and contemporary — and funny — as the best of Samuel Beckett. It’s exactly what we’d say if we could drop all the trivia and pretense, and just say what’s going on in our inner lives, what’s bothering us, what we’re hoping and fearing. The language isn’t fancy, but its accuracy makes us ache — when we’re not laughing. (And sometimes when we are.)

Yes, I did say Beckett. Cubría (whose ear was tuned on Mexican Spanish) has found the same mother lode of plainclothes English poetry that the Irishman did. And he mines it masterfully.

The troupe, in turn, gives his script a splendidly simple production. Mark Kanieff’s inventive set design creates a world of comic mystery from sheets and sawhorses. Lauren Wemsichner’s lighting and the sound score by Mischa Stanton and Arian Saleh likewise weave magic from the simplest things. And, as mentioned, Sami Rattner’s costumes and Erica Smith’s makeup are minimalist gems, summoning millennia of tradition by using nearly nothing.

The actors, on the other hand, are nonstop dynamos. They use everything they’ve got to propel themselves through their world as they try to attack, escape, and finally face the Giant Void.

Kim Hamilton paints Fool 2 in a shifting array of slightly muted colors: hesitant, hopeful, humorous, hurt, ever faithful. This common-sense Sancho holds — or at least, keeps re-finding — the gravity in the room. Karla Moseley uses a lighter palette for Fool 1, the quixotic dreamer who first finds the Void, then leaps headfirst down every escape route, learning  by bruising. Liza Fernandez juggles five roles, an irascible wise drunk and an inconsolable baby being standouts. And Claudia Doumit morphs through four disparate characters, at one point catapulting from a jaded bartender to a seductive swami. Each is a delight to watch (and listen to — clarion-clear diction is a hallmark of these players).

The hand of director Felix Solís is, as it should be, everywhere but invisible. He leads the troupe through an 80-minute ballet of vigorous, precise movement — punctuated by posed stillness in which every turn of a hand or a head, every lift of an eyebrow, has meaning.

I’m sad to say that until now, I have not seen a production by Ammunition Theatre Company. I will not miss another: these are artists to be reckoned with. Cubría’s The Giant Void in My Soul is a remarkable playwriting achievement, and Ammo is giving it a delightful, virtually perfect production.
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The Giant Void in My Soul, by Bernardo Cubría, directed by Felix Solís.
Presented by Ammunition Theatre Company, at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., LA 90064.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00,
Sundays at 7:00,
through June 3.

Tickets: <https://www.goldstar.com/venues/los-angeles-ca/pico-playhouse>