If you're going to write and produce a sprawling ensemble piece, you might as well do it at the Present Company Theatorium, a sprawling (by Off-Off standards) space with a stage nearly 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep, surrounded on three sides by backstage and "wing" space. And with 60 raked real theatre seats and a lighting grid! It's a pity it's in the boonies East of Ludlow and between Houston and Delancey Streets.
The piece in question, while hard to follow on a purely dramatic and literary level, offered many wonders, notably some visual poetry and finely honed physical acting by the cast, who also wrote it. On a verbal level, it lacked the focus that having a dramatic poet at the helm would have provided and frequently sank instead into banal comments that could have been offered up by actors on the analyst's couch - with the audience in the role of the analyst. (Excerpted from the program notes: "Joseph Campbell writes of the Hero's Journey, echoing Jung's Archetypes; humility and forgiveness are tenets of the faiths espoused by both the Christ and the Buddha; the themes of Shakespeare's plays ring the same notes as the Mahabharata." This is heavy and often indigestible fare to be offered up by such young artists.)
The artists in question interleaved scenes from their real and fantasy lives as five characters: the Woman (Alexandra Gray), who seemed to be the central traveler mentioned in the program notes, searching for an identity; the Reporter (James Ford), with notebook, raincoat, and cigarette; the Temptress (Katharine Houston), a sultry wanton with a sense of humor; the Old Man (Seth Trucks), who had some of the finer and more whimsical individual moments, reminiscing about being one of King Arthur's men on a midnight grail quest in London's Hyde Park; and the Child (Cara Burdick), who offered some touching reminiscences about her relationship with her father.
A directorial tenet holds, of theatrical gimmickry, that you do it once and don't do it again. The Hyperbolics overused one gimmick, in which a character would disappear offstage (to go to the bathroom, perhaps) and reappear in the body of another actor. The technique worked well, the first few times. Other gimmicks, like painted globes mysteriously lit from within, worked marvelously well in a number of contexts and never got stale.
The lighting (uncredited) was sometimes as murky as the writing. The sound (Carter Little, Michael Merenda, and Ruth Ungar), was a wonderful mix of pop songs, movie music, and sound effects. The costumes seemed to be carefully chosen icons from the actors' own closets.
All in all, this was a lot more authentic and interesting work than that seen last by oobr, Corneille's The Illusion (in Tony Kushner's less-than-inspired adaptation). Let's hope the Hyperbolic Players continue to stretch the limits of their (and their audiences') envelope!
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2
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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton