Friday, May 26, 2006

Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass

“Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” opens tonight for a two week run on the University Main Stage. Based on a story by Polish novelist and painter, Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium tells the story of a son who goes on a fantastical journey to save his father from death. Under the direction of Granada Artist-in-Residence, Helena Kaut-Howson, “Sanatorium”becomes a unique form of experimental theater which encourages collaboration among individual actors to establish an ensemble, wherein each actor creates his or her own character within the confines of the author’s words and the director’s vision.

This is a slightly more than two hour production, with no intermission, which opens with a brief skit, “The Other Jew,” based on Henryk Greenberg’s story, “Drohobycz Drohobycz.” This curtain riser features Lauri Smith as Ruth, a mother writing to her son, telling him of her search for information about the life and death of Bruno Schulz, and Paula Dawson as an older woman remembering what things had been like in the ghetto. Both women give superb performances. Dawson, in particular, who may be remembered for her outstanding “Macbeth,” creates a believable old woman with very simple facial expressions and body posture--not always quite so successful in younger actresses.

One play segues into the other with the entrance of the rest of the cast onto the stage: Dave Cantrell, Melisa Cavazos, Michelle Jackson, Jessica Rodriguez, Derricka Smith, and Christina Soliva, most of whom play more than one character. JT Reece is Joseph. Theater and Dance faculty member Sheldon Deckelbaum is his father, who explains that he was drawn to the role because of the challenge of working in the ensemble setting.

There is no real “plot” per se, but there are stunning visual images of the holocaust – smoke canisters, crowding into tiny spaces, and the presence of soldiers, all within the context of a sanatorium.

A very big part of the success of this piece is the contribution of the show’s designers--Robert Broadfoot (scenic and costume design), Brian Webber (lighting design), Kristin Orlando (sound design), Erich Bolton (Video design). Without the atmosphere these designers create, this show would have a significantly less powerful impact.

I caught this show in its preview performance and the director told me that it was still “a little rough.” I would be hard pressed to find any rough spots. This is a powerful production which contains partial nudity and is not designed for children, but packs a wallop and leaves a lasting impact.

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