Some dude online called me strident and condescending yesterday, and I just wanted to say, "I have to be. It's for the Curtains readers." So, you know, you're welcome.
About a hundred years ago, the exciting new thing in live theater was something that would still blow you away: the work of Constantin Stanislavski's disciples at the Moscow Art Theatre. It wasn't just Method acting and Brandoesque mumbling. An ensemble would work for months, sometimes years, on a single production before sharing it with the public. (By comparison, professional plays most often rehearse less than a month if the cast is working full time, and shows with part-time actors -- paid or not -- generally go up after four to six weeks of rehearsal.) The result was heightened believability, down to each grain of sand in a character's shoe and how she felt about it that particular day, in front of those particular people.
Maybe that sounds a bit wonky and not like your idea of entertainment, but I saw a professional version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (not 100 years ago, folks, more like 22) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that had been produced this way after six months of rehearsals, and it's elegant voyeurism. You can't look away. You can't wait to see what happens next. You know whatever's being suggested about human nature is true and valuable, even if only for that moment.
Students of Arizona State University Tempe's Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film who are pursuing Master of Fine Arts degrees belong to a working cohort called Interrobang (named for a punctuation mark that never quite caught on -- an exclamation point superimposed over a question mark; you can see a cuddly version of it on this postcard). They've just spend a year making a play called And What She Found There, and you need to spend a couple of hours this evening watching the final performance.
It's one of those experiences that will burn in your soul like a pilot light for years to come. The show strikes that delicate balance between brand-new and archetypical, between utter weirdness and making perfect sense. Unlike some collaborative works of the '60s and '70s that are better off neglected on a dusty shelf somewhere, And What She Found There has a gripping story, defined characters, and just enough doom and magic to keep you guessing without setting off your freaky bullshit meter. (As I said to my companion afterward, "That was kind of like the good part of The Matrix, except I could follow it.")
The characters, led by queen mother Lulu and her oracular baby, seem to have created an improvised, functional dictatorship in the desert near us, not too far in the future, after some pseudo-apocalyptic social stratification has relegated all the food, security, and assets to Towers in the distance, a place pretty, healthy young girls like Ina's sister seem to keep disappearing to.
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Ina stumbles into Lulu's refugee commune and meets with fearful hostility, but through proving her usefulness and forging alliances, she is able to stay long enough to be sucked into a dreamlike fairytale dimension full of both hope and riddles, and . . . that's all I'm going to say. But if you've seen the show and you want to comment here, starting at 9:45 MST tonight when the play closes, with your guess of what the final riddle's answer is, I'll post mine, too.
So the acting is kickass, bringing back a couple of the disciplined, heart-wrenching stars of last season's Eurydice , along with its costume superheroine Samantha Leigh Armitage, who blends grunge, fetish, survivalist, and steampunk looks into something that looks as though it just fell out that way. The fabric of myth here -- legends, clues, destruction, renewal -- is woven tighter than an Army tent.
One of my favorite performances is probably supposed to be. Courtenay Cholovich's Nana wordlessly joins the audience as they file in to take their seats and, lantern in hand, she prestidigitates the set and characters into being while pointing, nodding, and smiling like the finest innocent-faced silent film comics. (She talks later on, but that huge, disarming grin never goes away.) Nana is simultaneously a member of the community and a commenter on it, someone who knows more than she can say and sort of virtually holds the audience's hand when things get a bit dicey. Another "outsider," Joe (Adam Pinti), may not even exist, for all Ina can tell, but he becomes her touchstone, and Pinti's physical and vocal skills create a being I'm not sure I would believe in, either. Or want to.
And What She Found There concludes its run at 7:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, May 4, at the ASU Lyceum Theatre on campus near Forest and University in Tempe. Tickets are $7. Order here or call 480-965-6447. Finding a parking spot can be challenging (though a weeknight near finals shouldn't be quite as bad), so plan to arrive early if you're driving.