Billed as a Physical Comic Operetta, be forewarned that Stone Age Recreation: An Operetta is really more a dramedy with physicality.
Now let’s move on, because this little opera has some big ideas and ambitious drive, which merits serious respect. First, an orchestra accompanies the actors alongside a nearly full length score. Second, the story takes a present day situation (told through narration) and sets it in the past (of the 10,000 BC variety) to see how different, or not so different, our primitive versions would have acted in a love triangle. Third, grunting, speaking and singing all convey plot, but physicality is the mainstay. And it is a marvel.
The actors use every inch of space the theatre offers (even the aisle—so don’t be surprised if someone in a loin cloth slips by your seat mid show). They roll, run, tumble, leap and bound through their scenes with nary a word—just guttural grunts, huffs, puffs and unintelligible screams—yet orchestrated to the sounds of music. Keeping time for the full hour.
Using just their bodies, the actors’ cavemen discover the joy of sweet fruit, first laughter, flirting, tickling, and all manner of play. They dance and juggle. Domesticate the first pet. They play keep away. And yes, they discover/invent the wheel. There’s even an allusion to golf. Love, however, is the key find for two of the “cave” men—Kaa (Matthew Marcus) and Lou (Haely Jardas).
This show is not everyone’s cup of tea–more grunting than talking. Body movement and expressions convey emotions, ideas, and thoughts more than most of us are used to. Almost like a Silent movie. But the movement demands physical prowess and athleticism from its performers that is, nonetheless, admirable and impressive. No matter who you are. I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour walking hunched like a Gorilla in between climbing trees (fake or real) and jumping from heights over 4 feet. Barefoot.
The score was not my favorite—stripped down perhaps to align with the time and place of the main action. But the director, in his opening remarks, made it known the music is still evolving (no pun intended). And the actor’s voices didn’t seem extraordinary to me, though it was hard to tell. They were often overpowered by the drums, cello and piano. These are kinks that can be work out in a performance or two or refined moving forward.
Even then, I still don’t think it will be for everyone. I am on the fence about whether or not I genuinely liked it, myself, but I appreciate the food-for-thought I walked away with and the art involved in its conception and fruition. Although you may like it more. Someone behind me exclaimed, “Extraordinary!” multiple times post curtain call.
In a nutshell: Great physicality and movement (particularly a fight-scene). The music and singing need perfecting.
And about that “dramedy” I mentioned in the beginning: Kaa sings that “Discovery’s the difference between surviving and being alive.” The key to socially progressive evolution. From the profound to the personal.
But in the end, might wins over the mind. Intrigued? Go see for yourself.
Stone Age Recreation has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012, at Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC
Details and tickets