Monday, January 08, 2007

PLAY: "The Rapture Project"

I dare you to tell me that watching puppets fight isn't the funniest thing you've ever seen (puppets do). Great Small Works's The Rapture Project goes one further than mere puppet action, though, when Susan Sontag gets the s#!t beat out of her by the devil. I'd say that it's just one of those plays, and chalk it up as a hip urban experience, but The Rapture Project tries too hard to also be a political play about Islamic fundamentalists and Christian zealots, not to mention a series of unsubtle vignettes on American corruption and global culture shock. Plots run as rampant as puppet strings, and there is little attempt made to blend things together. If anything, the ever-changing musical styles of the interludes just make things more divisive.

Now, chaos can be fun, as with a mass puppet melee set to excited shrieks of "Armageddon." And there are scenes of ephemeral beauty, as when a security-guard puppet flies off-stage, only for the roof's curtain to pull away to reveal him being transported through a black-and-white wonderland by four naked puppeteer "gods" as the rest of the cast hums a crescendoing series of notes. But the show is erratic and, like a jigsaw with missing pieces, starts to become more of an annoyance than an amusement. Luckily, the performance isn't much more than an hour, and it ends on a good-enough note that the work isn't soured by the rougher patches.

The concept, to revive the old Italian tradition of Orlando Furioso plays that brought Christian and Muslim violence to a head, is a good one, and very relevant today. But it's going to take more than the promising presence and premise of the female punk-rock militant Islamist, Rebeah, to break through to any audiences. The work needs to be developed, and the cuts between scenes need to do more than play with ethnic beats and post-hip spoken word to draw things together. At one point, pigeons fall from the sky, but we've only got blind faith (and a narrator) telling us that it's a sign of the apocalypse and the ensuing Rapture. The biblical flowchart surrounding the "stage" doesn't help much either -- it's Greek (or Latin) to me.

It's not that there's too much noise--the troupe's musical segments are polished blends of saxophone, tambourine, oboe, drum, and accordion--it's that there's no blending of those elements in the show itself. There's just a bunch of individual pieces that caterwaul their way to a decidedly unresolved finale. There are plenty of sight gags to make the play palatable, and there are those rare, truly enjoyable moments of total cohesion, but you won't leave the theater full of ideas, just with the image of puppets swinging their futile arms at one another.

[First posted for New Theater Corps - 1/8]

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