We have been telling each other stories through theater for twenty-seven hundred years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it better. Two hundred years ago, a proposal to sing songs in the middle of a play would have brought howls of outrage; now we have musicals about religious books. Five years ago the innovative (and woefully underutilized) director Christopher Gallu added video to an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, turning the tiny Capital Hill Arts Workshop into a space large enough to encompass a whole city. The technology exists to amplify theater with video as well as music, flat art and dance. What’s holding us back?
The folks at the Source Festival asked themselves the same question, and to answer it they have for some years been running “Artistic Blind Dates”, in which practitioners of different artistic disciplines are thrown together and invited to devise a piece using resources from all of their practices. The result has not always been of the greatest. Frequently, the differences in perspective and language among the disciplines yielded results without substance or even coherence.
This year, Source gave the participants a three-month head start, and the consequences, judging from Nacirema, are favorable. Nacirema is not great art, but it has a point of view, it conveys an atmosphere and an emotional state, and you can understand it.
You are in Nacirema, the sort of paranoid state which flies a flag. I mean this literally; in the Source Theater’s intimate rehearsal space, there is no separation between the audience and the production, and you are part of the action. The government of Nacirema requires all those legally in the country to have an “Eye-D”; if you see one on a chair, better grab it.
Namuha (Anne Egseth) – and note that the ability to spell backward is a help to understanding this play – doesn’t have one, and so is hounded by a fierce security guard (Shannon Boyd). Namuha’s panic grows as she paces around the stultifying limits of the performance space, but she eventually comes to rest across from the Musician (Eric Plewinski, performing the work of Martin Gendelman). Love and fear dance a duet, both before us and on screen, where they go out into the city, and dance and laugh freely. Meanwhile, on television a news reporter (Jeorge Watson) and a bulletheaded government official (Mark Borden) pump out incessant messages about the perfidy of the “illegals.”
“These negotiations were like the negotiations I have with my wife,” musical composer Gendelman observed after the show, and Tewodross Melchishua, who created and directed the film and video, chortled in agreement. “They should call this artistic blind marriage,” he said.
It is true that there is a little inconsistency of vision; at times the play makes some off-point observations about the dignity of work, and the quotes from great men and women which periodically appear on the big screen are more distracting than illuminating. Still, it is well-conceived, tightly directed (by Debbi Arseneaux), and well supported technically by Tewodross Melchishua and his assistants: Blaine Menelik, Tierra M. Green and Candace Shipley.
By Debbi Arseneaux, Martin Gendelman and Tewodross Melchishua
Directed by Debbi Arseneaux
With original music by Martin Gendelman
And Original film and video created and directed by Tewodross Melchishua
Additional Music provided by Nacirema & Dr. Gonzo and Nick the 1da,
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Running time: 25 minutes