General 11-12-2003

Theater Review: Sacred Spaces–An Eyeful

15 Head, an experimental theater company that bases their collectively created works on literature and art, performs "Sacred Spaces" at Red Eye through November 22. Dean Seal reviews the show.

This show by 15 Head is described as “the result of 15 years of
dreaming.” The dreaming was being done by Joe Stanley, artistic director and progenitor of this piece. Instead of working with a script and designing a set to go with it, Stanley and Co. took a series of paintings and designed a set and show to go with them. The result was, to my mind, a satisfying evening of dreamy images and extended moments, beautiful sights, a relaxed pace, and some wonderful singing.

The set is dominated by a Citizen Kane-style staircase, which is lit from many different angles and used from many different perspectives. To the left and right are gauzy Chinese-red sheer curtains; performers pass through them or stay visible behind them (I liked that idea a lot). There are three pillars to the right, two to the left, made of wire mesh that’s only partially closed off in wooden slats, cut to angles and painted white. These pillars nicely oppose the unlit iron framework of Red Eye’s Industrial-Strength
ceiling. To the right is a screen that shows the painting under examination, using modern power-point technology. It’s not quite big enough, and towards the end it jammed and blue-screened the final image. It seems we are a year or two away from reliable Power Point; but this was still a great use of the concept. Putting these beautiful, wondrous images up on stage gives us a new
thing to look at, a new way to engage the eye in the theater. It has been done well in support of maintaining contact with a plot line (in King David, by VocalEssence) but this is the first I’ve seen of specific reference to actual works of art.

Before anything gets lit, the darkness is filled with a vocal rendition of Barber’s “Adagio,” a haunting and mournful piece usually done by a large orchestra. This ensemble handles it well, and it is a pleasure to absorb it in total darkness. When the lights come up on the stairway, we are in a different place. Dream imagery can go flat quickly, if that is all you get, but this show keeps the small surprises coming.

The show opens and closes with a small monologue that includes the idea that “we all follow a thread. The thread you follow goes through things that change, but the thread does not change.” (I liked that). It makes for nice bookends, or inclusio, which is the Latin term for the Hebrew poetry form.

A montage of images will not do the show justice, but it is useless to try to describe it scene by scene. All I can do here is list some of the more arresting tableaux. In the order in which they appear in my notes:
-a pregnant lady dressing in the presence of her pantless consort, with Swingle-singer vocalizing in the background.
-the Beekeeper? The Bride? The Nun? a big beautiful white hat, not unlike a Vietnamese peasant’s field hat done in oversized white silk, followed by a half-dozen more beekeepers/nuns/brides.
-the cast walking very slowly, with one note in the background, the sound of a bell or a drone or a tuned water glass.
-a cascade of oranges, a la Jeune Lune, falling out of the sky onto the
-a gentleman with a briefcase that shines a light on his face as he talks silently, while across the stage his compadre is holding a briefcase in front of his crotch and saying gibberish out loud, while on the screen is a great portrait of a naked man, and on the staircase a woman in a black cocktail dress is rolling up the stairs.
-two ladies in very formal white dresses engage in a tango-like flirtation, using low key lesbiotics to entertain each other with sullen stares of yearning, as a male lurks in he background as a witness. One goes up the stairs, drops her bustle which turns into a huge silk train, which covers the stairs, and turns it into a giant silk wedding cake.
That’s enough of a sample.

There are minor complaints. Why not use the adagio with the inclusio? The second time it comes up I think the show is over. Also, maybe cut the forced hilarity bit towards the end, because nothing funny actually happens, and no one buys it. Finally, have that man out there naked, not in briefs or briefcase. The picture is there, everyone knows what he has, it feels more awkward to
not see it. I am not a particular fan of male frontal nudity, but if over half of your audience is female, it surely was a mild disappointment.

But this is persnickety stuff. The evening worked for me, without plot or point. As Mr. Kling says, “You don’t need much of a through line for this kinda thing.” I savored the experience like it was a long expensive cigarette, I enjoyed each smoky minute, I found it to be so delicious, and it left me so