La Mélancolie des Dragons opens with an ominous scenario. Four metalhead guys, sitting in a seemingly snowbound car and rocking out to AC/DC, drink some beers and fall asleep. A gentle middle-aged woman spots them as she’s walking with her bike nearby. She heads over, stands in front of the car, and taps on the windshield until they wake up with a start.
It could be the beginning of anything from a gothic horror story to a goofy comedy. Instead, it’s the beginning of a 2008 show by Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio, now playing at the Walker Art Center as the final installment of this year’s Out There series.
The end of each Quesne show hints at the beginning of the next, and longtime Out There attendees may remember that L’Effet de Serge — which came to the Walker in 2011 — ended with the title character wearing a wig. There are over a dozen wigs in La Mélancolie, not all of them on heads.
Are the men a band on tour? Well, sort of. Their car (which is in fact broken down, a situation their new friend attempts to remedy in astonishing fashion) is towing a trailer, but there are no electric guitars or drum kits inside.
Without spoiling too many of the show’s surprises, suffice it to say that the travelers are the proprietors of what they describe as an amusement park. It’s an unconventional sort of amusement park — no roller coasters, no merry-go-rounds — but it holds its own strange delights, which the woman (Isabelle Angotti) patiently allows the kindhearted strangers to demonstrate.
What begins as a gently whimsical show takes on a darker, surreal tone as the park’s biggest effects are activated. Even then, the show remains distinctly comforting, and you start to wonder whether it’s the car that’s arrived in our world, or whether it’s us who are arriving in its world.
Music suffuses the show, gradually progressing from rock to classical and exploring some Jethro Tull-style territory in between. Quesne’s critics might wonder if he leans on music too strongly to animate emotions that his slowly unfolding shows might otherwise fail to stir, but here, the characters’ black leather leggings put the playlist in a bemusing light.
Quesne’s central charm is the ability to enchant an audience with low-tech effects — simply by creating a world where the mundane becomes magical. In La Mélancolie des Dragons, that world is a quiet snow-covered wood where a band of metal fans get the chance to share a little love. If that’s not what the world needs right now, I don’t know what is.
IF YOU GO:
La Mélancolie des Dragons
Part of the Out There experimental theater series
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Walker Art Center