Waltz of Elementary Particles
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.