Review: ‘Mycenaean’

Carl Hancock Rux seems to have made "Mycenaean" for himself. He not only adapts this piece of multimedia music theater from his own novels and epic poetry but also stars, directs and composed the score. What's more, he floods the show with images and language that could only make sense to the person who wrote them. </B>

Carl Hancock Rux seems to have made “Mycenaean” for himself. He not only adapts this piece of multimedia music theater from his own novels and epic poetry but also stars, directs and composed the score. What’s more, he floods the show with images and language that could only make sense to the person who wrote them.

An Obie-winning veteran of the avant garde, Rux clearly knows which gestures are supposed to mean something onstage. On a spare set occasionally dotted by floating Greek masks, he and his cast behave like they’re dreaming. Their arms sweep in languorous arcs, and their voices chant in sing-song rhythms, except when they sing a random bit of text as though it were a gospel hymn.

Sometimes, actors splash themselves with imaginary water from a white basin while video images of flowers and Al Gore’s face flash behind them. Underneath the reverie, two technicians provide the beeps and swooshes of electronic music.

If only it had some artful nudity, the production could be sold as a starter kit for experimental theater. Even though he uses the most obvious tropes, however, Rux cannot construct a single moment of clarity for an audience that lacks access to the symbols in his head.

A few ideas break through the inscrutable staging, but even they get muddled. It’s clear, for instance, that a pretentiously named “video documentarian” (David Barlow) and “dream theorist” (Ana Perea) are studying a group of people trapped in half-sleep. The fantasists imagine they live in ancient Mycenae, and they confuse Greek myths with modern-day stories of war. The filmmaker and the theorist want to learn if their visions have any wisdom to impart about the current age.

That premise is fairly solid. But while he clearly wants to say something about the Iraqi war and its place in the historical cycle of violence, Rux shows no interest in creating a cogent story. Crucial bits of information — like how everyone lives in a fictional American city called Fulcrum — are available only in the press notes.

Meanwhile, Rux stages everything as though it were in a dream state. Even the researchers get sucked into the dancelike movement and occasional singing, which obliterates our frame of reference for tracking the Mycenaeans. Dreams mean little with no reality to contrast them.

It’s possible Rux wants to create a totally surreal environment, the way Robert Wilson replaces logic with images that offer a visceral thrill. However, the play cribs too much from its predecessors to be engaging. These days, who doesn’t use video to add poetic dimension to text?

Attempts at poetry are hopelessly florid. Playing Racine, an American soldier who thinks he is the Greek hero Hippolytus, Rux gets the bulk of the flowery speech, but no actor is safe. As Aricia, a sketchily defined woman who goads Racine (or is it Hippolytus?) to fulfill some vague destiny, Patrice Johnson must try to sell monologues like this: “I’m drawing a dance to summon the voices of Asturian Socialists. … I’m making proto-Romantic skies, proto-Realist moons — a thousand moons under which a man or a woman could run by night.”

Johnson at least has a commanding stage presence and powerful singing voice, as do ensemble members Helga Davis and Tony Torn. They commit to their material as though they understand it, and their emotionally varied perfs indicate when certain parts of the production are meant to be angry or rebellious, instead of just faux-artsy. These thesps inject rare moments of relatability into an otherwise impenetrable experience.

Mycenaean

BAM Harvey Theater; 874 seats; $40 top

Production

A Brooklyn Academy of Music presentation of a play in one act, written and directed by Carl Hancock Rux.

Creative

Set, Efren Delgadillo Jr.; costumes, Toni Leslie-James; lighting and sound, Pablo N. Molina, video, Molina and Jaco van Schalkwyk; original music, Rux and van Schalkwyk; dramaturg, Morgan Jeness; production stage manager, Ginger Castleberry. Opened, reviewed Oct. 10, 2006. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

Racine, Hippolytus - Carl Hancock Rux Arachne - Helga Davis Aricia - Patrice Johnson Deaedalus - Tony Torn Video Documentarian - David Barlow Dream Theorist - Ana Perea
With: Darius Mannino, Celia Gorman, Christalyn Wright, Marcelle Lashley, Niles Ford, Paz Tanjuaquio, Kelly Bartnik.
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