Walking into a performance of the deeply affecting Elijah's Wake is like jitterbugging across some invisible boundary between the mundane and the subconscious. Conceived by Michael Sommers, it's a work of visual poetry, circling with both grace and barbarism around the topic of humanity itself: the experience of being a human and the long reach of our previous and successive generations through time. The primary action concerns a man (Julian McFaul) and a woman (Nancy Seward) inhabiting a room with a table, in a series of vignettes that range from quietly touching to weirdly evocative. From the opening moments we glean that Sommers's take on existence will not be all marshmallow bunnies: McFaul enters walking on a pair of paint cans, howling in outrage, resembling the way nearly all of us start our passage through life (save for the paint cans). A series of projections enhances a sophisticated visual aesthetic—raw deconstructions of words one moment, the next revealing the elegance of a hand-drawn tree serving as a metaphor for biblical generations.
Dan Dukich serves double duty intoning gnomic sailor's chants, then operating a foul little puppet called Mercury, who flaps about observing McFaul and Seward with inhuman detachment. The business here is the raw stuff of our lives, with much of it literally on display and part of the action: dirt, water, fire, and archetypal items such as a bell, and scissors that also double as primeval birds. Seward and McFaul navigate the free-flow much the same way we chart our own course through the shadows: with occasional moments of delight, crushing despair, and a never-ending process of negotiation with those we love, with reality as we understand it, and with what might lie beyond. It's a show in which the chairs and plates have an alarming propensity to move on their own, and tables have hidden compartments that our players can pass through. It's close to magic, in other words, and as confusing, multifaceted, and intense as these lives of ours, all dirt and blood until the day we do it no more. $12-$15. 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun.; Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis; 612.874.6338. Through November 14