Sandbox Theatre's '600 Years' needs more storytelling to fill time

Ashawnti Ford and Michelle de Joya in '600 Years.'

Ashawnti Ford and Michelle de Joya in '600 Years.'

Midway through 600 Years, three women on an epic quest are spending the night in a tree, fearful of the dangerous creatures and virulent rot to be found in the forest below. To amuse themselves, they exclaim non-sequiturs. "Potpourri!" "Oligarchy!" "Buick!" They laugh and laugh. After a few rounds of this, the brave Seeker Greer smiles. "I wish," she says, "it could always be this way."

The Southern Theater

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic future, where the scarce survivors huddle in villages, relying on roving bands of Seekers to bear information and resources from one settlement to another. All the Seekers are women — and, in fact, there's no evidence of men whatsoever. It's left entirely to the imagination exactly how the human race propagates itself.

Quite a bit is left to the imagination in 600 Years, which tells the story of six Seekers who come upon a star map that just might help them navigate across an ocean ("the Endless Aqua"): the ultimate Seeker stunt, if they can pull it off. They seem confident that the star map will be an adequate navigational device though, unfortunately, posterity has preserved the memory of smartphones ("sticks" that once contained all the world's knowledge, it's thought) but not sextants.

Sandbox Theatre's collaboratively created show begins with an atmospheric flourish, as the Seekers' silhouettes are projected on fabric billowing down from the Southern Theater's proscenium. The fabric screens (later used for projections representing animals, environments, and villagers) are a nice touch by scenic designer Derek Lee Miller. They're an effective use of the space to add atmosphere and dimension while evoking primitive around-the-fire storytelling.

Unfortunately 600 Years is light on actual storytelling, heavy on ritual chanting and stilted pronouncements. For a once-in-a-generation adventure, the Seekers' march to the sea is surprisingly quick and uneventful. Aside from the rot scare, there's really just one challenging situation involving a rainstorm and a wild boar, and that's about it. When the Seekers finally reach the sea, their journey's end turns out to be a bleak, abrupt anticlimax.

That leaves the Seekers with plenty of time for character development, which might have been fruitful if the characters couldn't each be adequately described with a single word. The courageous Greer (Danielle Siver), intrepid Nova (Kristina Fjellman), and energetic Lila (Michelle de Joya) are joined by the sage Vinka (Heather Stone), the young Clementine (Ashawnti Ford), and the blind Bea (Evelyn Digirolamo).

Bea, who's constantly being complimented on her well-honed tracking skills, navigates by knocking on her shield to listen for echoes. Like the Ninja Turtles, the Seekers each get one distinctive accessory. ("What's that stick for?" a villager asks Greer at one point. "This is my staff," she replies, and leaves it at that. Like Louis Armstrong said about jazz: If you have to ask, you'll never know.)

Though director Amber Bjork and her cast strain to create a distinctive world, rich in music (including a percussive score performed live by Megan Campbell Lagas) and mythology, they never really show us what's at stake in this heroines' journey. The company describes the show as "a celebration of hope," but what I found myself hoping for was a reason to care.