The house is set so that the light gauze draping the stage invades the seats of the audience, merging the audience and stage without distinction. Thus begins Memoria Brassica, an inquisitive experimental piece in which printing, spoken words, and dance unite to form an artistic installment of how memory is created and destroyed by dementia, through the metaphor of a cabbage losing its layers as a mind loses its memory.
This second installment in Source Theatre’s “Artistic Blind Dates” draws on the deep spirit of experimentalism and forging forwards in theater to break that third wall between audience and performer. In these blind dates, three artists of different mediums meet to form an innovative art installation from different extra-sensory devices to create a wholly new experiment to examine complex and pressing issues which draws the audience in at every turn. Two different experiments are presented each evening, with a discussion afterwards with the creator. These experiments are united by a desire to break the wall between audience and performer and question how memories are formed and where the boundary between perception and reality lie backed by beautiful and provoking images that float across the cerebral cortex of the stage.
In the first piece, a stirring ensemble of printer, Kristina Bilonick, actress Karin Abromaitis and choreographer Tzveta Kassabova meet to explore the limits of the mind and how memories can be lost and retrieved. Just as a cabbage is crushed when rolled across a flat surface, performers used their whole bodies to demonstrate how the mind can lose figments and pieces once remembered. The stage is the epicenter of the mind, and the audience are the neurons that hold it together. What is truly unique is how the audience becomes a part of this collective brain. Memories are created as artist dips cabbages in green paint and prints beautiful images-memories across the terry-cloth stage, the stage of the mind. The mind unravels, as Bilonick uses sculpted movements to roll and print cabbages across the stage, creating alluring green patterns of memories. With realistic and gripping madness, Abromaitis contorts her body and face into a violent, wide-eyed, ravished dementia patient as she reads off her notes of memories and flings them down amidst the revel of the painted stage: “I put my eighteen year old daughter and her grandmother in a tub, and I bathed both of them” and “Mother stirred the food. She was cooking.”
This kinesthetic act of cooking was mirrored in the way the audience became part of this organism. The original score by Aleksei Stevens, with windchimes, was complemented by the beeping of audience’s cell phones, as memory in sounds and messages were transmitted between the performers and the on-lookers. At one point, audience interaction became so direct that they too moved with cabbages and rolled them onstage. The use of video, however, to compliment this process was slow and mere elongation, although it was a creative device that demonstrated the unraveling of the mind.
The choreography and movement of the loss of memory was astounding. As the white canvas of memory is stripped from the stage, Kassabova’s beautiful turns mimic forgetting, as her missteps lead her to fall and roll through the black cracks of the stage in choreographed precision, even though her fellow performers try to catch her.
Their dresses are fastened with clothespins as a device to catch memories. The turn at which memory disintegrates seems unclear, perhaps to mimic the disease itself, as sheets of printed memories and brain scans of cabbages are hung on a clothesline across the stage after the initial loss of memory begins. The deconstruction of set was strong as cabbages were release from their barrier in a penultimate act of forgetting. Although the journey was confusing, it allowed the audience to experience dementia as a synapse in the brain would and encapsulated us within an evocative and ethereal dream-song of forgetting and remembering.
The question of collective memory and the blurring between memories and imagination led into the second play, Bunny, Bunny, which discusses the urban legend behind “Bunnyman Bridge” and explored how urban legends are created, and ultimately, lets the fear of the bunny man out of the closet. This piece has all the energy and creativity of youth, with actors striding onstage from their seats in the audience to personify different locales in the Washington DC area.
According to one tale, the Bunnyman Bridge is haunted by the bunnyman, a prisoner who escaped from a psychiatric hospital to brutally murder and hang teenagers off the rafter of a bridge in Clifton. He clothed himself in the remains of dead rabbits. According to another story, the bunnyman escaped with an axe on Easter wearing a bunnyman suit after having murdered a pair of high school sweethearts by the bridge. This intelligent tale explores nuances and differences between different strains of the same story, and how these differences evolve in different parts of the Washington DC area, using a combination of script, dance, film, and music. To this day, local residents refuse to approach the bridge solo. The seats draped in guaze and the projections of the bridge on a screen really brought the audience into the piece.
The most threatening and stunning moments of the piece lie in the dances, choreographed by Chitra Kalyandurg, when the ensemble of dancers use tight dances to act out the legend of the bunnyman, with turns and jumps and tip-toed hanging motions to simulate the violence and fear that the bunnyman perpetrated on his victims. Such moments were perpetuated when the stage went black, and the ensemble shone their flashlights across the space to create an eerie and nightmarish montage of bodies, shadows, and dimmed lights. Bunnies drop from the ceiling, a mere spectacle, that pulls the audience from the scary and gripping dance created by live bodies.
Witty monologues, written by Seamus Sullivan, support a strong script and allow a chatty waiter, played by Paolo Santayana, to transform from a local historian who dabbled in humor and gossip into a menacing figure, who yelled the irascible volatility of the Bunnyman. The debate in which a tireless ghosthunter, played deftly by Chris Mancusi, and a local, enraged citizen, Frank O’Donnell who plays his part with bravo and dynamism, as they duel over whether bunnyman existed, as a figment of the imagination or a historical fact. The bunny is a startling image of the domestic, quiet rabbit becoming an agent of violence and fear.
A short film by Lisa A. Caruso, who also directed the stage presentation, is used in this piece to explore Clifton, which has the yellow house wherein “Sleepless in Seattle” was penned. Local flavor, music, and flare abounds in this piece, just as questions unravel as to the origin of myths, legends, and the ghosts that lie in our hearts, minds, and imaginations. Are they welded at some level from memories, facts, or pure whims of fantasy?
“Artistic Blind Dates” offers an intelligent and pensive celebration of new work with visually stunning moments, whereby the exciting process of creation was explicated in post-show discussions. The audience is included at every step of the turn in this experiential blackbox piece which innovates in the use of space and spectacle. This exploration of concepts and ideas ends on a question, allowing us as audience members to let our imagination and our deepest fears rule. With an array of spectacles, we come face to face with an unknown ghost in a disarrayed mind that we will not soon forget.