Pangea World Theater's ontological experiment Entrances and Exits opens with an arresting sequence: In stark light, Katie Herron advances on the retreating Alberto Panelli in slow motion. They move diagonally away from the audience, the lithe Herron executing glacial martial-arts moves against the muscular Panelli, who is stripped to the waist and devoid of all expression. Nicely breaking down conventional stage time, the sequence speaks about weakness and strength, need and self-protection, and it comments on the unspoken battles that take place between us in idea-space.
The balance of the evening does not capitalize on this auspicious beginning. With an ensemble cast directed by Dipankar Mukherjee, this world premiere attempts to take on the big questions that render our brief lives so mysterious and unknowable: the nature of time, the real texture of reality, the bottomless qualities of love, and what happens when our hearts quit beating.
In other words, Pangea is trying to raise (not solve; the show is ambitious without being hubristic) all the questions that art is about, in the space of an hour. This project is staggeringly open-hearted and inclusive in tone, but if you're going to hit a guy where he lives (suspended on the ledge between birth and death, if you will), you must do it very well.
So what does that vision quest look like, in a practical sense? An early sequence features random thoughts from various humans accompanied by abstract movement by the ensemble. In another sequence quantum physics--you didn't think you were getting away without mention of that, did you?--leads to a funny capper as the show pokes fun at its own cosmic ambition. A later passage depicts contemporary life as a frenzied, hollow pantomime.
There are moments when the show touches on fleeting beauty, but I can't escape the sense that it merely dips its finger into the profound sense of weirdness that accompanies this post-Newtonian age. Did I know, the show asks, that science now views time as a dimension, rendering fungible concepts of past and future? Well, yeah. And did I know that all humans alive today have a common ancestor, making us all blood relatives? Erm, well, yeah, I read that one, too.
Science has begun to tell us what the arts have been raving about for centuries: that reality is stranger than our senses are willing to let on. Entrances and Exits, for all its good intentions, fails because it does little more than point out the obvious. If you're going to swim in the depths, you'd better bring your scuba gear. This show snorkels.
The third Jungle production of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves (after stagings in 1993 and 1997) combines entertainment with disturbing undercurrents, making it the theatrical equivalent of an elegant dish of food that, upon closer inspection, is crawling with spiders.
Artie Shaughnessy (Bain Boehlke) plays a zookeeper who dreams of attaining stardom on the back of his crappy songs. He has a wife called Bananas (Wendy Lehr) whose mental state lives up to her nickname, a girlfriend named Bunny (Rosalie Tenseth), and a long-gone childhood friend turned Hollywood success (J.C. Cutler), upon whom Artie hangs the hope of salvaging greatness from his dwindling existence.
The cramped, boozy set design by John Clark Donahue (who also directs) is splendid, as are the performances. Lehr extracts a complicated longing and fecklessness from her ditsy housewife, and Boehlke anchors matters with lugubrious, ultimately agonized work. Finally one is left viewing an eclipse, with life's light visible only at the edges of great darkness. Rarely do nearly three hours go by so quickly, and with such shocking heartache at the end.