Relics Misses Opportunities in Far-Future Look at Our Modern World

Everyone loves a good apocalypse story — the Rapture, a zombifying plague, a planet of highly intelligent and pissed-off apes.

Relics, a new experimental work presented at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio, takes us to a post-apocalyptic society 300 years in the future, on the anniversary of "The Great Wipe," which, we are told, annihilated our society and destroyed all records of its existence. Here, a museum exhibit is about to open, packed with artifacts from long-lost 2014.

This is a progressive production: The audience travels through the exhibit, visiting several chambers along the way to the finale, where the sacred rites of this lost society are on display. Think of it as a haunted house, but instead of scares there is a mystery: What has happened to our 2014 way of life, and what kind of world do our descendants inhabit?

See also: Relics Offers Futuristic Look at the Present [jump]

Creators Sarah Agnew, Nick Golfis, and Chantal Pavageaux have put a lot of thought into the setting and the details of the exhibit, but the occasionally clever commentary on our society is not enough to make up for the long periods of down time — particularly in a piece that lasts less than an hour.

Much of Relics' humor derives from the anarchologists' inability to understand what the typical artifacts of middle-class suburban life mean. They imbue everyday items with great significance: A cat-obsessed teenage girl's bedroom becomes a holy shrine to a feline religion loaded with sacred words like "yolo" and "omg." A Bowflex is really a torture device (this one might be on point).

But there is only so much comedy and insight that can be mined from displays full of bottle caps and detritus. Wandering these few exhibit rooms grows dull. The audience is taken from the lobby (where you can snack on 300-year-old Twinkies as you wait) through the various rooms in groups of 20. It takes time for these groups to get from place to place, and there aren't enough distractions in any one room to keep audience members from getting, well, bored.

That's especially true at the end of the production, when much of the audience has to wait in the final room for some time until everyone arrives and the real program can begin. Finally, we get to the heart of Relics — a presentation of different ceremonies, such as mating rituals involving fanny packs and battles where the warriors go out wearing cat-pattern pajamas and wielding garden tools.

But it's too late, and over far too quickly. There's a subplot about rival factions in the 2314 society that finally comes to a head in the show's final minutes. That, in turn, gets interrupted by the arrival of a new great disaster heading directly for the exhibit.

And then, when the chaos reaches its apex, the show is over.

As the cast flees from the space, the audience is encouraged to follow. There are plenty of options at this point — we could be split again into small groups and taken to other parts of the Guthrie's nine-floor building to gather more clues about this strange future world — but instead the audience is sent into the elevators, disgorged onto the fifth and fourth floors and sent out into the night. Fairly anticlimactic for the apocalypse.


Relics Friday through November 23 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Additional 9 p.m. performances scheduled for multiple evenings. Guthrie Theater 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis $22-$30 For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit onlinea>.