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At the LAByrinth Theatre Company, A-Mazing Things Happen

A rising ensemble boasts some stars and earns some stripes. logo

First, an explanation of the upper/lower case name of the LAByrinth Theater Company. Much more than the mere pun Clive Barnes implied in his New York Post review of their latest production, Stopless, the name is also an homage to LAByrinth's roots as the Latin Based Theatre. Co-founded in 1992 by Paul Calderon, David Deblinger, John Ortiz and Gary Perez - "I was the Latino-wannabe," Deblinger jokes - the LAB began life at Intar's 52nd Street space when playwright Maria Irene Fornes and Co. closed up shop. Originally created to give voice to New York's multiplicity of Latin cultures, the LAB quickly expanded to embrace artists of all backgrounds and became a very special multicultural collective now called the LAByrinth, meaning "intricate and/or involved."

At their new home at Chelsea's Center Stage, Deblinger and recent company member, actor-director John Gould Rubin (Dreaming in Tongues, The Erotica Project), are collaborating on Stopless. The piece actually got its start at LAByrinth's 1999 Summer Intensive, a yearly retreat where company members go to create new works. "It all began when Phil Hoffman [actor-director and LAByrinth Board member Phillip Seymour Hoffman] challenged me to write a play," recalls Deblinger, who also co-stars in the play. "I'd been writing all these solo projects (Shmoo, Nobody's Home) and he thought it was time to 'link the journeys' of the characters I create, so this is my first play."

"I was reading Salinger's Franny and Zooey," continues Deblinger, "and the idea of the two brothers came after that." Stopless draws the audience into the intimate lives of two brothers, each obsessed and seeking ecstasy, one through religion (Justin Reinsilber), and the other via sex (Deblinger). The cast of four also includes their mother (Maggie Burke) and the stripper-girlfriend (Tomokoh Miyagi) of the sex-obsessed brother. The title, Stopless, echoes the brothers' inability to escape from their respective addictions.

"David had just 14 pages when he asked me to help him," explains Rubin. "We decided to stage them and the company committed to the project at the retreat. We got David his first dramaturg, Tania Kirkman, who then became my associate director, and he had a deadline of two and half months to come up with a complete script. We did a four day workshop in mid-October and have been working on it ever since." Following that, the decision to "go multimedia" solidified both the play's concept and it's voyeuristic subtext. With the four actors not only miked, but with Mariana Hellmund on the live videocam and Ernesto Solo's pre-recorded video design, the play forces the audience into becoming voyeurs themselves, hearing all the whispered secrets and seeing the tiniest gestures, even when the actors are facing away. Says Rubin, with a wicked smile, "We're breaking all the rules of 'theater'."

The noticeable prevalence of hyphenates among LAByrinth's coterie of actor-playwright-directors suggests that they may have already achieved their stated goal of being an ensemble of both seasoned and brand-new members, "who take on [all] the roles involved in the collaborative process." Along with Deblinger and Rubin, the current membership roster includes such familiar names as Broadway's Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), television's Lauren Velez (Oz) and filmdom's Guillermo Diaz (Girlstown) and Sam Rockwell (Green Mile, Galaxy Quest).

At the LABrynth, nothing is complete without coming full-circle. Or so it seemed on January 18, when Rockwell introduced his LAByrinth buddy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, at the National Board of Review's Gala, where he won the organization's 1999 Best Supporting Actor award for his roles in Flawless, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. Last season, Hoffman directed fellow company member Stephen Adly-Guirgis' In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings and now he's co-producing Stopless, prior to his scheduled Broadway debut in True West, for which he is now presently in rehearsal, alternating the two lead roles with his Boogie Nights and Magnolia castmate and friend, John C. Reilly. Still, Hoffman stops over at Stopless at least twice a week, just like all the other LAByrinth members. "It's all about the work," says Hoffman. "I joined LAByrinth five years ago and I break down sets, move platforms, take tickets - whatever needs to be done. New York's where I live and LAByrinth is my creative home - it's where my friends and my work are."

On March 20, LAByrinth holds its first "giant" fundraiser. For more information, contact Jill DeArmon at 212-929-2228.

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