Monday, May 04, 2009

How Soon Is Now?

Celebrated as Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf may be, it's wondrously clear from the first steps inside the pitch-black Irondale Center that bluemouth's highly physical twist on it, How Soon Is Now?, is going to be a bit darker. With each step spent following a lantern-swinging, foreign-language-speaking villager down the balcony path--as sounds well up in the distance and shadows loom large on a giant two-story scrim--it becomes clearer that, despite the imposing gloom, the show itself is brilliant. A roughly sketched animated short (from Heather Schibli) pierces the darkness, providing the childish frame of Prokofiev's original--the wolf, caught by a noose--but things are rarely as two-dimensional as they seem. And such is the accomplishment of this collectively created work: it's thrillingly three-dimensional, which you'll note when the Duck (Cass Bugge) and Bird (Stacie Morgain Lewis) force you to help pin the rampaging Wolf (the terrific Stephen O'Connell) down.

It's an impressive way to turn the audience into a jury, and what follows is a stark lesson in morality, as Pussy (Daniel Pettrow) calls Peter (Lucy Simic) into the court to watch justice be done. However, this serious talk is balanced by expressive dance, the deep philosophy diluted by classic jokes (have you heard the one about the devout, drowning man, who ignores the boat, waiting for God to save him?), and a vaudevillian exchange establishes the sort of characters that make up the defense and offense--the "lame" Duck's logic is no match for the "song" Bird's emotional warblings, a sort of revenge dirge sung on behalf of her (and the town's) dead children. In addition, the inventive use of space (and the physical interactions with it) give more weight to each actor's plaints, especially as the Wolf, suspended from the balcony, howls that he cannot be blamed for his "irresistable impulses."

"What are you?" cries the Wolf. "A bunch of animals?" In this case, yes and no: Rachel Jones's ruinous costumes (tattered pants and dirty shirts) help to humanize the "animals," and casting a female Peter draws the most out of a fierce tango-hybrid between "him" and the Wolf, especially given the emotional heft of the work. In a slick move, the projected images serve, at times, to reflect the audience with black and white stock footage of angry crowds--at other points, they emphasize Richard Windeyer's choice in music--and Omar Zubair's on-stage presence as a visceral Drummer Boy. All these aesthetic pieces play well off one another, filling the space and squeezing every second out of this hour-long tour-de-force.

How Soon Is Now? is as vivid and off-the-page as theater can get (without breaking the law). It's also earnest, which makes bluemouth inc. one of the few companies that's able to pull off cross-disciplinary work as they search to redefine the "walls" (and in this case, ceilings and floors) of theater. This sort of work can't come soon enough: see it now.

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