The Halls of the Dead
Whatever ghosts may roam the halls of the long-dormant office building across from the Grain Belt brewery, where Skewed Visions stages its newest site-specific performance, they now have ample company. Days and Nights weds a wild meditation on space and matter with an evocation of urban alienation, pierced through the middle by a short film that spoofs all the high-mindedness otherwise on display. The results are starkly evocative, and, yes, haunting.
The company's 2004 trilogy The City Itself spanned the course of weeks and sprawled across south Minneapolis and into the Warehouse District. This latest trio of works is intended to be consumed in a single evening, though the sense of compression is mitigated by the way the work occupies large swaths of the building. In this way, mundane space carries the aura of the uncanny.
Gulgun Kayim's "The Hidden Room" is based on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, a Polish novelist and painter of the previous century. (The same artist inspired the brilliant touring work The Street of Crocodiles by Theatre de Complicite, which seized local audiences in 1998.) The Jewish Schulz was forced to paint a mural for an S.S. officer during the last weeks of his life, and here, as portrayed by Nathan Christopher, he is consigned to weaving strips of shredded paper into books in a Sisyphean bid to stay alive.
The audience is led from room to room, from scenario to scenario, discovering deep wells of imagination in each spot. The atmosphere is thick with creepiness and tension, the rooms filled with shadow. The characters who emerge from these recesses share an otherworldly disconnect. Christopher mines the cut-and-paste dialogue of Schulz's prose, as well as an interpolated "Rumplestiltskin" tale, with facility and dexterity. A final lasting image, of Vanessa Voskuil swaying with a life-sized puppet, evokes Schulz's world in which "there is no dead matter."
"A Quiet Ambition," by Charles Campbell and Cherri Macht, is a meditation on the isolation of contemporary urban existence (a laugh track is not provided). The work moves inexorably down a long hall, with Campbell and Macht inhabiting surreal spaces while working through a script that includes material by Italo Calvino, Julio Cortázar, Susan Sontag, and Lord of the Flies. Anyone up for a little Neil Simon?
While the going is heavy, the visuals are consistently inventive. Campbell waters plants in one dream space amid origami birds. At another point, we watch Macht polish off a beer and microwave popcorn while Campbell melts down on the other side of a transparent wall. And between shows is Sean Kelley-Pegg's "Time for Bed," a short film starring Campbell as an insomniac playing with action figures, which nicely lampoons the rest of the night.
There's also a sex scene between two nude dolls that is disturbingly erotic. By evening's end, ghosts have been duly awoken. This stuff will fuel your dreams for months.
Naomi Iizuka's elliptical Anon(ymous) places a refugee from a war-torn land on a journey through America that mirrors The Odyssey. Michael Escamilla inhabits the title role with vulnerability and eventually a sense of wiry strength, following the story's unfettered internal logic through a landscape of consumerism and exploitation. Sonja Parks is a standout as a goddess who guides him, as is Steve Hendrickson in a macabre sequence involving an opera-loving serial killer.
This restless sojourn includes fights, strobes, and explosions, before reaching a big finale of swordplay and intricate choreography. But what rattles around after you step out into the night are the immigrant voices from the beginning and end of the work, the words of anonymous people who died seeking a share of the transcendence we all desire and pursue, to the degree our material fortunes permit.
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