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The Waltz of Elementary Particles
Press Review

Alone Together
by Bryn Manion of offoffonline.com
The Waltz of Elementary Particles - reviewed June 3, 2005

In Theatre Lila's debut production, The Waltz of Elementary Particles, nine actors illuminated like fireflies encounter one another much the way I imagine electrons would if electrons were human bodies. After what can only be described as a birth sequence of sorts, these free-flowing entities of light and purity put on the trappings of modern city-dwellers, primarily through very simple, bold costume additions.

From there, through increasingly frenzied, repetitive gestures, each of these individuals reveals what drives his/her day. In all cases, they are driven by media that tell them to buy more, to be more, to achieve more. Ultimately, the particles lose their particle-ness and in exhaustion confront the unknown: the audience.

Sounds a little sci-fi, right? A little artsy, maybe? Well, it is, in its way. But this is one of the best pieces of theater I have seen in five years, and it takes a little explaining as to why.

There are arguably two types of theater: narrative and experiential. While most theater contains aspects of both, the narrative kind dominates our expectations. Most of us expect to be told a story, because written plays with clear story lines dominate our concept of what theater is and should be. But what of this other, shape-shifting thing called experiential theater?

Experiential theater is as it sounds: an experience. While stories can be thrilling or insightful or subject us to rapid-fire ideas or emotions, theater can have a higher calling beyond being a story's vehicle. Experiential theater taps into forces of nature, rhythms deeper than our consciousness, and a collective sense of being. Heady stuff indeed. But the hallmark of a piece that works is actually an absence of muddled thought?a sheerly present state of mind, the past and future in an instant.

Theater Lila makes its debut with a strongly experiential approach. It is the kind of theater that demands your attention through physical urgency and immediacy. Though there is a loose story structure at work here, it is more like the impression of a story. The title says enough. The mythic theme of life as a journey away from the self and toward enlightenment is present, but to say more contradicts the experience by trying to make too much cerebral sense of it.

Jessica Lanius's direction implicitly empowers her design team and actors. There is a great deal of specificity at play here, but there is also well-managed chaos. A tremendous amount happens in 50 minutes, and the design team does not bombard us. Instead, they support the work with a clear aesthetic that is beguilingly simple.

In fact, it is one of the most complex designs I have seen in Off-Off-Broadway theater. Michael A. Reese delivers a stunner of a lighting design. The lights themselves are a journey. Deirdre Wegner's costumes protect and sustain the performers through much sweat and revelation, but never lose their clarity. Set designer Jeremy Doucette allows the spectacular quality of the space to speak for itself in many ways, its vastness both encompassing and spooky. Alexander Bruehl's video adds to building tension in this demanding world without distracting us from the key action. John LaSala's soundscape is perhaps most prominent and at times borders on clich?, but nevertheless is necessary.

With all this design, it is amazing there is an absence of ego in the elements. In ego's place is support of the piece and the performers. The design flows when it needs to flow, and cranks when it needs to crank.

As for the performers, this is one tight crew pushing boundaries and physical capabilities to the extreme. There is a stunning quality to these bodies in pure action; every actor onstage is luminescent and beautiful because of it. But that isn't what makes the production work. While I like looking at beautiful people, I need a little more than that to get this jazzed about a piece.

Here's what makes it O.K. to throw any attachment to narrative theater out the window for the night: There is an aura of trust permeating the ensemble that extends and includes the audience. They trust each other, trust the undercurrents of creativity, and trust the power of the human body to evoke empathy. Lanius invests each of her performers with the freedom to confront the work alone together, meaning the journey for each performer is as much an individual journey as it is a collective one.

In fact, that is the piece's underlying truth. Yes, there is the consumerism theme, but at its core this work really asks, Is life a collective aloneness or a togetherness with moments of acute loneliness? The answer is all in how you deal with an extended hand.


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