Nov. 21 2012 12:30 PM

Flaming Lips spectacle tops our coverage of local plays

Kimiko Glenn
Photo by Kevin Berne
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots does not dwell in outer space. This world-premiere musical at La Jolla Playhouse inhabits the inner sanctum of the human body in all its biological inscrutability. The robots against which beautiful Yoshimi Yasukawa wages war are not otherworldly (or even manmade) automatons, but cancerous blood cells threatening her life in a much more tangible sense. Yet tangibility would not seem the right word for this ambitious collaboration between The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Playhouse Director Emeritus Des McAnuff. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' affirmations of life's and love's fragility are easily within reach, yet they're all but secondary in a production that is a dazzling visual frenzy with all the breadth and emotion of a Flaming Lips show.

Make no mistake, and duly acknowledging McAnuff's considerable creative contributions, Yoshimi is a Flaming Lips spectacle, both in sight and sound. The only thing missing is Coyne's signature arrival inside a plastic space bubble. That's child's play beside the technology of this show, which features jaw-dropping projections, puppetry, levitations and an army of pink and white robot warriors—some actors, some airborne manipulations and one 17 feet high, towering over the stage like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Robert Brill (scenic design), Basil Twist (puppet design) and Sean Nieuwenhuis (video and projection design) must be credited for so deftly realizing Coyne's and McAnuff's vision, and Steve Rankin's fight direction is true video-game wizardry.

The Yoshimi score, too, is solid and evocative. The melodic and frequently haunting music draws not only from the 10-year-old Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots album, but also from the Lips' "The Soft Bulletin" (1999) and "At War With the Mystics" (2006), as well as newly written material. Its adaptation to a stage production like this one feels seamless, though it certainly must have come with arduous effort and commitment.

It's the story of a woman in crisis and in love, in spite of standout performances from Kimiko Glenn in the title role, and Paul Nolan and Nik Walker as the other two sides in her triangle, that waxes and wanes. The one-year time period from Yoshimi's dire medical diagnosis to her ultimate fate is a relentless continuum of musical catharses and visual pyrotechnics (the ninja-like one-woman wars with the metaphorical robots being the most impressive). Yoshimi's fight to survive hovers over all, whether in battle or from a hospital bed, but the accompanying love story lacks the same passion or cohesiveness, and the show's energy is front-loaded into Act 1. The obvious and inevitable message of the musical's finale, "Do You Realize?" is simpler than the arc of the show itself, which variously addresses more than just the great existential question.

By and large, though, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is exciting and bold, multisensory theater. It runs through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse. $40 and up.

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A Christmas Carole: The live radio play version of the classic tale, adapted by Cygnet Theatre's Sean Murray, is an annual tradition. Opens Nov. 23 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

Elizabeth 1: Billed as a biting comedy, it's about a troupe of actors that illegally performs a play about the 16th-century monarch. Opened last week and runs through Nov. 25 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre at UCSD.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings: A holiday sequel to the oft-performed musical focused on a 1950sstyle singing group that returns from the afterlife after being killed in a traffic accident. Opens Nov. 23 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

In the Red and Brown Water: A high-school track star turns her back on a scholarship to care for her dying mother. Opened last week and runs through Dec. 1 at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre at UCSD.

Now Playing

John Doe, the Ultimate Midlife Crisis: As a patient with severe brain trauma lies unresponsive in a hospital, his wife and his five personalities are the waiting room—which one is John Doe's true identity? Through Nov. 25 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown.

A Hammer, A Bell, and A Song to Sing: What was originally a show celebrating the music of Pete Seeger became a broader piece about the folk music of social and political change in America. San Diego Repertory Theatre staged it nearly a year ago and is bringing it back now, with additional material. Through Dec. 2 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: A Texas brothel is under a siege launched by a pesky TV reporter. Through Dec. 2 at Coronado Playhouse.

The Little Flower of East Orange: Ion Theatre Company peels back the layers of an elderly woman's past, as told by her son, after she's found unconscious in a wheelchair in Manhattan and brought to the hospital. Through Dec. 8 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

Holiday Spirits: In a Dickensian-style original by local Jim Caputo, a mysterious Realtor and three prospective home-buying couples give Ron and Laura food for thought as they go about the business of splitting up and selling their house. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Dec. 9 at the Legler-Benbough Theater at Alliant University.

When Last We Flew: A gay, black teen in small-town Kansas encounters a copy of the play Angels in America, and its effect is transformative. Through Dec. 9 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13.

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Dec. 15 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown, and then it returns on Jan. 10 and runs until Feb. 17.

Hickorydickory: What happens when everyone has an internal "mortal" clock that ticks until death, but you can actually hear yours and you know when it's going to stop? Through Dec. 16 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: It's the hotly anticipated world premiere of a musical, based on the 2002 album of the same name by The Flaming Lips, about a girl who must choose between two guys and—you guessed it—battle some pink robots. Through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A mean ol' beast gets a lesson in kindness when he meets his match in Whoville. Through Dec. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.


See all events on Monday, Dec 5