If you feel uneasy when you walk into the Edison Theatre, that's as it should be. Video cameras track your movements, flashing your ugly mug on monitors at both sides of the stage. Catch sight of yourself, look away, but you can't escape: unshaven cheeks; oily dome; zitty skin; bloodshot, haggard eyes.
All in closeup.
That invasive moment sets the tone for the sterile country of The Dictator's Nose, a place ruled by a vicious dictator whose subjects live in fear of having their doors kicked in—whenever they're not filling their few nonparanoiac moments doing menial government tasks or debating which drab shade of blue they're going to wear.
Several of those minions are in charge of waving placards with their leader's face printed upon them during political rallies. When the laborer carrying the nose placard gets waylaid, the face flashes up—minus the olfactory organ—and all hell breaks loose. The slapstick of the first act fades away, the tone changes to pitch black, and the bodies start piling up.
Overlook the fact that the play makes all of its points within the first 15 minutes—subtlety is not the name of its game. Instead, kick back and appreciate the brain power at work in Ashley Carr Jr.'s direction, Steffi Mayer's knockout scenic design, California Repertory's frequently hilarious cast, and Bob Berkey's passionate cynicism.
But does such an absurdist script mean anything in a country so far from Yugoslavia? Well, as Republican front-runner George W. Bush scrambles to deny past cocaine use, crying out for his Internet critics to be silenced, The Dictator's Nose warns that even the white-washed sepulcher of American politics is likely hiding something fetid and ugly.
The Dictator's Nose at Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 432-1818. Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through Oct. 9. $15-$20.