Schrodinger’s Cat — that poor hypothetical puss sealed up in a box unseen and simultaneously dead and alive — is explicitly evoked in the course of David Wiener’s world premiere “Cassiopeia” at Pasadena’s Theater@Boston Court. Appropriately, too, since this tone poem exploration of the physics of human contact manages to be both lyrical and blunt, engaging and tedious all at once. If you’re in a mood to give yourself over to rich imagery richly (sometimes too richly) conveyed, you’ll encounter something rare and beautiful.
A woman and man of some years conduct inner monologues in adjacent airplane seats during rough weather. Odetta (Angela Bullock), a former maid, is obsessed with rivers and recollections of a lonely girlhood; the professorial Quiet (Doug Tompos) sports an Aspergian disinclination to bond, doodling equations through memories of the physics mentor who done him wrong.
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They bicker as mismatched seatmates will, but sooner than you can say “Last Year at Marienbad,” it appears they may already have met. Or have they? If so, how did their encounter’s meaning sit with the universe’s plan? And how does their current turbulence link up to their troubled separate, and possibly connected, pasts?
Reinforcing the text’s many dualities, Stephen Gifford’s gleaming black box set manages to evoke both a latenight flight’s disconcerting void and man’s place in the empty cosmos, with Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting always ready to share constellations through the inky black. As if that weren’t enough to set off sparks, a being known only as the Voice (PaSean Wilson) wanders around in evening gown to echo key lines and engage in spooky vocalizing courtesy of composer Jack Arky, whose subtle sound design also keeps the engines humming.
“Cassiopeia” was evidently worked on over a decade ago, composed for the aphasia-suffering avant-garde pioneer Joe Chaikin and abandoned at his 2003 death. And it feels like a young man’s experiment, its sometimes turgid arias suggesting Konstantin’s unfortunate play within a play in “The Seagull.”
Wiener manages to be both obscure and on the money, the Voice spelling out his themes upfront. Though the fine cast is committed, talented helmer Emilie Beck can’t weave all their textual and theatrical strains into a coherent fabric. Flashes of lucidity cut through meandering passages like lightning in the night sky.
Wiener’s award-winning examination of the Killing Fields’ legacy, “Extraordinary Chambers,” demonstrated a far more assured melding of here and now concerns and visual and spoken poetry. So if the current play was a finger exercise en route to more ambitious and worked-out things, it’s enough for now to enjoy how it plays out while we await what comes next. Which in fact is pretty much Odetta and Quiet’s realization about life at the end of “Cassiopeia.”