October 17, 2002     





All works of art have a story behind them, but the Watts Towers--that consistently awe-inspiring outsider masterpiece of steel rods and hoops, reinforced cement, and vintage detritus--are a virtual testament to the artist's life. The eccentric Italian bricklayer Simon Rodia, who built them in his Watts backyard for more than three decades, then simply walked away from them in the mid-1950s after a stroke, is as rich and mysterious a figure as his work would suggest.


But you won't find that rich figure in John Kafkaloff's flimsy docu-play, in which a now-dead Rodia (played frantically, sputteringly by Casey Mandel) emerges to regale us with such choice anecdotes and musings as "the towers--they be very big thing I build," and "33 years--that's a long time!" Apparently after death this Rodia lost his Italian accent, and is now able to pronounce such quaint dialect as "no make-a sense" with standard American diction. There's a sliver of revelation--when, after his wife dies, Rodia wanders all the way to the beach, picks up a seashell, and realizes what to do with his life, with a tragic clarity we can feel. And in one sequence dramatizing Rodia's feverish, improvised construction methods, Mandel and director Laura Jaoui make the most of a shiny Werner work ladder, otherwise a depressing stand-in for the towers. Sapphira Joseph's dance interludes are baffling and pedestrian, if mercifully brief.


But the worst thing I can say about Sonomabitch is that the short slide show of the Towers themselves, in all their crazy, lapidary beauty, shows up everything else onstage (even the blank white mannequins, racks of female separates, and vintage pinball games at the edge of the play's odd fashion-warehouse setting).

--Rob Kendt

"Sonamabitch," presented by L.A. Originals at Patrick Apparel Int'l Fashion Warehouse, 818 S. Broadway, Suite 701, Los Angeles. Wed.-Fri. 9:30 p.m. Through Oct. 18. 45 min. $7 suggested donation (or $5 with EdgeFest passport). (909) 626-2772.