Crabs in a Bucket: A Captivating Reflection of Human Nature

Currently Playing at Atwater Village Theatre in Los Angeles until August 21 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Anna LaMadrid, Michael Sturgis, Jordan Hull, and Xochitl Romero. Photo by Cooper Bates
Los Angeles-based Echo Theater Company's world premiere of "Crabs in a Bucket," written by Mexican screenwriter and playwright Bernardo Cubria, is a thought-provoking and engaging production that delves deep into the complexities of human nature. With a talented cast of four actors and a truly creative costume design by Lou Cranch, this play offers a powerful analogy that resonates with life experiences. 

Growing up in Mexico, I would often hear the analogy of people resembling a jar of cockroaches, where there is no need for a lid to keep them inside as when one tries to get out, others will pull. I was unaware that it was a similar case with crabs, although they do it for survival in a current... I don't know if cockroaches do it for survival... 

Jordan Hull and Michael Sturgis. Photo by Cooper Bates

Well, in 'Crabs, the crustaceans very much like humans, showcase how they hinder each other's progress for survival. Crabs that come from "the before" which can be interpreted as the past, travel to a shucking bucket in order to reach what is next, -the outside-. Through the interactions of  Amargo (Xochitl Romero) and Pootz (Anna LaMadrid), who have been trapped in the bucket for a significant period, the audience is taken on a journey that goes into their past, present, and what could be the future. The arrival of Beb (Jordan Hull), a younger crab, adds a critical element to the narrative, exploring societal divisions, race, and ageism. The play masterfully addresses the tendency to criticize and separate generations. As the story unfolds, the audience is introduced to Mamon (Michael Sturgis), a crab who managed to escape the bucket but returned due to a fall, refusing to admit their failure. This character serves as a palate cleanser, highlighting the intricacies of personal growth and struggle. Xochitl Romero and Anna LaMadrid have a contrasting dynamic between bright and dark as Amargo is an older crab who has lost the spirit and no longer considers themself as funny and as outgoing as before. Amargo has a contrasting dynamic with all three characters while Romero gives intensity with sublayers of tenderness. Amargo means bitter in Spanish so I can see the playfulness of the playwright within the lines, also using they, them, and their pronouns. Cubria's writing gave me too an air of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, as the subject matter you can say, is somewhat similar. LaMadrid as Pootz is that dynamic, yet innocent friend practically everybody has. The actress displays trained physical movement that might have been complimented by Julia Davis's Clown training as LaMadrid moves throughout the stage, up, and down with no difficulty.

The direction by Alana Dietze is precise and tight, ensuring a seamless flow throughout the play. The movement of the crabs on stage is both hilarious and captivating, adding a layer of physical comedy to the overall experience. The dramatic moments are further enhanced by the exceptional sound design by Jeff Gardner and the impressive lighting effects by Azra King-Abadi, dressed by Arien Saleh's playlist. These elements contribute to the emotional depth of the performance, captivating the audience's attention which adds to the exciting mood. 

Anna LaMadrid and Xochitl Romero. Photo by Cooper Bates
The set design by Amanda Knehans, though small, is practical and cleverly interactive. The actors utilize the entire space, creating an immersive atmosphere that goes beyond the confines of the stage. This innovative approach adds an extra layer of engagement giving a feeling of connection to the characters and their struggle. 

"Crabs in a Bucket" delivers both good and bad surprises that reveal the volatility of human nature. Just when you think the story is predictable, it takes unexpected turns, leaving a lasting impact. The play serves as a reminder of how our past influences our present and maybe the future while it compels us to reflect on the choices we make in life. That counterpart is represented by the other two crabs Beb and Hull as they bring innocence and wit to the story. Hull shows a brief skateboard skill that compliments the youth of Beb as well as great makeup and stunts with Xochitl Romero. Mamon also means something in Spanish that I will leave for the curious and the bi or multilingual. I will say it suits the character perfectly as Michael Sturgis gives a complex and contrasting personality that will have audiences doing a double take.

"Crabs in a Bucket" accurately reflects the challenges, pros, and cons of life with some food for thought as well. With its talented cast, and the seamless collaboration of its production team, this play is a must-see for theater enthusiasts seeking a thought-provoking experience. As a critic based in San Diego, I have to add the excitement it brings me to go see shows in Los Angeles and, if the traffic was not as awful, I would do it more often. As a Mexican woman, it is also very exciting to see a Mexican playwright being produced with a unique story that is universal as opposed to the tiring narratives that sometimes American theatre inclines to produce. 

Currently playing until August 21 at Atwater Village Theatre. For more information on ticket prices and performance times please click HERE

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