Highlight: Autotomy; Grinding into Emptiness

Cully Gallagher

For my money, it's hard to go too far astray with a good old-fashioned paranoiac dystopia, and if you're adding puppetry into the bargain then my arrival is imminent. Such is the combination offered by Grinding into Emptiness, consisting of local artist Kristi Ternes and Oregonian Roger Peet. Loosely based on a novel by Polish sci-fi author Stanislav Lem, Autotomy (it's a biological term for an animal's shedding a body part in order to escape) presents a heroine coping with a befuddling and malevolent police state. She's been given a mission so secret that its contents are unknown even to her, and her circular quest through bureaucracy, secret codes, and ciphers ultimately leads her into a hinterland far from meaning and order. The show is funny and relentlessly claustrophobic. It consists mostly of able and lively shadow puppetry and shifts in later scenes to figure puppets stylized to match the abstraction of the proceedings. Ryan Fontaine and Graham Baldwin add live music of distinguished creepiness, ranging from weird surf bass to industrial outrages on guitar. Whenever the work threatens to become too static--and there are times when pleasurably arty psychic claustrophobia can turn upon a theatergoer--visual changes propel things along, with the notable example of multicolored water projections that nicely evoke memories of Pink Floyd night at the Laserium. Ultimately Autotomy heads off into some fairly dodgy terrain involving the destruction of meaning and other artistic antitraditionalist stuff, but the work does such a good job of entertaining without taking itself too seriously that it barely matters. Peet and Ternes give us elevator operators shedding limbs, a dictatorial general with an impermanent relationship between his head and his body, and spies moved to song by their own delicious subterfuge. They adopt a tone and roll with it, managing an hour of paranoia and mistrust with a silly grin. Because, after all, once you realize that meaning is a rip-off and everything is out to get you, what's left but to laugh?

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