The Dreams, Delusions, and Nightmares of Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Queen
Theatre de la Jeune Lune
Ambient Love Rites
There's a moment in Jeune Lune's meditation on Elizabeth the Second (by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, etc.) where a commoner named Astrid gives Her Majesty a scepter with a shoehorn attached. "I made it myself," she beams. The Queen, delighted, tries the device on a royal pump as Astrid adds gleefully, "and it's a dog whistle on top!" The Queen readies to summon her beloved corgi with her new gift while aides cover their ears in anticipation of the dreadful noise. The Queen blows into the whistle, and...
The sniveling aides take their hands away from their ears sheepishly--dogs can hear higher pitches than we can, get it? A mild laugh rumbles through the audience, almost an obligatory one. It's an OK joke--we can see how the idea sounded good at some point. We expect the stillness to last a beat. Perhaps to cap off the joke, a dog will trot onstage...or we'll see an actor in a dog suit...or someone will just hurl a stuffed dog on stage. Something.
The course of that gag can sum up much of Jeune Lune's latest production. We can laugh at elements (that scepter's a dog whistle!); we can intellectualize the premise (it's too high for us to hear!). But in the final evaluation...where's the goddamn dog?
These company-created pieces have evolved into a unique theatrical species. The specimens are easily identifiable by the fine cast, the myriad amusing bits, and the steady percussion created as the actors smack, smatter, fidget, and stammer with the jaunty exuberance of a group of Euro Muppets. In recent years, Jeune Lune's productions have also been distinguished by their utter failure to come together into a coherent, enjoyable whole.
The latest effort is a stitched-together series of riffs on the dreams, delusions, yadda yadda, of Her Majesty (Barbara Berlovitz, commanding as always). Her lament: "My eldest son is a monkey, his brother's a faggot, and I have nothing to do but stand on my balcony and wave like a blithering idiot." The sun has set on the British Empire. After a long line of Shakespeare characters and great heroes, today's monarch is, well, silly. She does try: In the morning, as her Lord Chamberlain prepares to read the day's schedule, she proposes, "Shall we ride the troops to battle?"
But the day apparently will only hold endless public appearances for this monarch, or so she is told by her bevy of sycophantic aides who smack, smatter, fidget, and stammer as they provide a stream of reports about frogs mating on palace grounds and the current digestive status of Sir George of Marbury. Her aides (Steven Epp, Luverne Seifert, Joel Spence, Sarah Agnew, Robert Rosen, and Vincent Gracieux) present a stylized, intricately choreographed procession of hemming and hawing, stumbling and bumbling. Here is our beloved troupe living up to our expectations. The comedic moments, though, are a mixed lot. Epp and Spence, playing two royal pages, clown their way around the stage and their giddy tumbling frequently ends in positions that seem to approximate anal intercourse. These base jokes get laughs (what's more funny than homosexual sex?), but really now, this company is entirely too creative to be reduced to this.
Still, the gags do portend a breezy, enjoyable evening--that is, until the production launches into the Queen's psychological journey. After a few utterly bizarre scenes with terrible transitions, Lizzie dons an Elizabeth I robe and starts talking all Shakespeare-like about her place in history. Her journey is portrayed through random sketches that barely make sense on their own, so by the time she has become nutty (you know, like Hamlet)...we are entirely alienated.
It's rather puzzling how poorly crafted the show is, given the redoubtable talents involved. A curious species, this company-created show: Is it possible that the creativity of the Jeune Lunies runs too rampant? Is there no one to check their impulses, no one to advocate for the audience, no one to sit the company down and say, "Dudes! Whoa!"? Questions abound, but one truth becomes apparent: This show needs an editor.
Daniel Alexander Jones is inhabited by the rhythms of words. As a playwright, he works in cadence and texture. As an actor, he melts into language; his words speak his body instead of the other way around. Director Wendy Knox and her Frank Theatre have given us the opportunity to see Jones's work as both a writer and an actor with a production of his Ambient Love Rites, a play possessed by language.
The work, at its core, is a ritual: a mourning of the brutal murder of a friend and lover, and an exorcism of the demons that caused his death. When the story starts, Jacob has been beaten to death. Hours before he was killed, Jacob visited local fortune-teller Madame Cruz (Kathryn Gagnon) asking for a love charm to make his Matteo (Jones) love him forever. Forever, we are told, is a dangerous game: Now that Jacob is dead, Matteo--who arrived at their scheduled rendezvous just after the ambulances--may indeed love him eternally, but in absence.
As we never see Jacob on stage, we come to understand him through the accounts of those who survive him. These characters sit in white light, facing front, in interrogation mode. An offstage police officer fires off stark questions; the answers grow into monologues of remembrance that evolve into small ceremonies. Madame Cruz recites love charms in Spanish as her assistant LaQuarius (Tezra Bryant) translates: Media tacita de vinagre/Some vinegar. Dos cucharas de sal/Two tablespoons salt. Soon, their words take over their bodies, their arms twirling and jerking at the whim of an unseen force.
The play demands this kind of full-body commitment, and watching Jones--who makes a ritual with every step--it becomes apparent that there's even more Frank Theatre could do in this vein. Through lighting and sound, we can occasionally sense the flicker of ghosts and the hums of spirits, see the soft light cast by a candle and hear the chill of the wind. But these murmurs sometimes seem too faint--fading in and out of the action and the acting--and the production fails to conjure wholly the charmed mood that Jones has designed in the script.
Life and love whisper beneath the surface of the text, barely audible. Whether we listen is up to us. The show raises hundreds of questions and provides only one answer, but its impression sticks in one's skull like the taste of a dream. As Madame Cruz tells us, "In the end, you are a witness to the mystery. Your only choice lies between opening your eyes or turning your head away."
The Dreams, Delusions, and Nightmares of Queen Elizabeth the Second runs through October 25 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune; 333-6200. Ambient Love Rites plays through October 25 at the Theatre Garage; 724-3760.
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