The busy, effects-driven revue “Hyperbole: Origins” speculates on the creation of diverse human endeavors without ever coming to grips with its own reason for being. Rogue Artists Ensemble’s cutting-edge amalgamations of masks, puppetry, projections, music and sound FX have justly won acclaim when applied to adaptations of Neil Gaiman (“Mr. Punch”) and Nikolai Gogol (“Gogol Project”). But the strung-together assortment premiering at Inside the Ford lacks a sense of forward motion or moment, impressing as less than the sum of its parts.
Central focus is occupied by the “Origin Machine,” a tacky combination of lab table and puppet stage owned and operated by the pompous Ducis (Thu Tran) and mischievous son Stan (Alex Levin). Assisted for some reason by a cute penguin sidekick, they preeningly manipulate a mime and dance troupe, outfitted in masks and body stockings, through a cavalcade of elaborate, wordless skits on humanity’s various first causes.
There’s something vaguely perfunctory in the way these clownish, inexpressive knobs keep pressing the device’s red button to call up, for instance, a Polynesian tale of how love and lava were co-created by a jealous sprite, or a Native American explanation of how a rabbit came to occupy the moon’s face.
And it’s not that the enactments are flat, exactly. Indeed, some are quite ingenious, and “the origin of music,” though shamelessly stolen from “Stomp,” succeeds in suggesting the thrills the caveman’s first rhythm session must have elicited.
But there’s no engine driving the narrative parade, and here the absence of a formal writing credit may be telling.
Ducis and Stan are little more than emcees of a demented futuristic “Ed Sullivan Show,” experiencing no personal discoveries or surprises along the way with which we could empathize. As each tale ends the program grinds to a halt, forcing the energy to start from square one again. And some of the acts take an awfully long time to get going.
The prerecorded score, mixing world melodic colors and folk motifs on a heavily percussive techno palette, lends an air of depth — or at least pretension — which is carried through in the technical wizardry.
“Hyperbole” was developed by helmer Sean T. Cawelti and the Rogues in UC Irvine workshops, and actually feels like a collegiate follies, raw and unformed.