Spotlight: The Beast of Nothing

Wing Young Huie

When co-creators Heidi Arneson and Severin Oman first cooked up this piece of experimental theater (in collaboration with Rebecca Welty), the idea was to riff on the concept of nothingness. Arneson recounted in a phone call last week, though, that no matter what they did, the concept of war continually intruded. Well, yes, of course it did. The result is this free-flowing hour that meditates on lost innocence and the great tides of history and humanity that claim countless lives (as well as the psycho-sensual pleasures of a sauna at the YWCA). Musical backing is provided by Ron Albert's disjointed electric blues--he looks like a member of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band who missed the bus home in 1975 and has been looking for a gig ever since. Arneson stalks the stage with an unusual presence--part amazed and part fierce--that grounds her frequent digressions of word and action. The piece simply washes over you, with Severin portraying phases in the life of a soldier who gets blown apart but keeps on going, accompanied by his trusty dog. Arneson plays an eager lover who has a day job as the embodiment of war. This is an antiwar work that, without preaching or pandering, effectively confronts the elephant currently residing in the American living room. In the end, after all the death and pain, the piece celebrates the power of individuals to stand strong. It speaks well of Arneson, Severin, and Welty that they resist the temptation to spiral into total darkness and pessimism. This sort of theatrical experience isn't for everyone--while I accessed a dreamy imaginative space, I also found myself disengaged much of the time. After the show I took a different route home than usual, and driving down Groveland Avenue I saw a figure emerge out of the night. He was dressed in the ghastly black robes of death. He was holding a big American flag. Go figure.

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