Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back Roads

“Back Roads” is the initial production of a new program through the UCD theater and dance department, called “Solo Explorations,” which fuses the interplay of actors’ bodies with their concept of contemporary issues.

This premiere production features two works by graduating MFA acting candidates, Victor Toman and Sara Zimmerman.

Toman’s “El Camino del Diablo” was inspired by his fascination for folkloric devil figurines from Mexico and two books about the current immigration situation between this country and Mexico. Blending acting, singing, guitar playing, and dance, Toman portrays four parts of the story of pollos (a derrogatory term for an undocumented immigrant) transported through the Sonoran Desert, with the idea to deliver them to farmers who had arranged for cheap labor.

This was a tour de force for Toman, who seamlessly transforms himself from innocent pollo to Don Pedro, the one who gathers and sends the workers to the United States, to the Minute Man guarding the border, to the devil figure, in red mask and jacket, playing the guitar and dancing.

Each character, helped by wonderful masks for all but the pollo, are wonderfully fleshed out and Toman is able to present a full picture of what drives each of these men, from the evil Don Pedro and his greed, to the innocent pollo who hopes to earn a bit of money so he can build his wife a home with a concrete floor, to the Minute Man who believes he is protecting his country from evil invaders.

I would have liked the volume on the guitar (excellent work on sound by Bryan Pham) to be just a tad need for ear-splitting volumes in a small house. It was also unfortunate that the entire final speech by the Minute Man was completely drowned out by the too-loud music, but despite that, Toman has created an excellent short theater piece.

Following “El Camino del Diablo,” the audience was led out of the Wright Building’s Arena Theater, across a courtyard, following a circuitous route marked by chalk arrows, and to another building, where an assortment of chairs which looked like they came from a storage closet somewhere was set up and the air was filled with the smell of freshly popped popcorn (which filled an enormous bowl from which Zimmerman ate during the performance).

We, as audience, may have a certain idea of what “theater” is and yet it is up to the artist to decide for him or herself how to interpret creative ideas. We are often asked to set aside our preconceived notions and just go with the flow. This is certainly the proper mental attitude for Sara Zimmerman’s “Circuitous Route,” a 30 minute piece which she describes as “a sonorous and physical exploration of speech and the unspoken: a winding and poetic piece of physical theater that pulls patrons inside worlds of hesitation and restraint.”

In the middle of her performance, a small child in the audience asked “what’s she doing?” and it was a good question.

With background of sounds from choral oooos, kazoos, tapping noise and other noisemakers, Zimmerman moved from one impossible body position to another, while speaking in stop-start repetitive sentences. At one point I had the mental image of being inside someone’s brain and watching neurons firing.

It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences you had to see to try to understand.

I’m not sure that Zimmerman’s idea of theater exactly meshes with my own, but whatever it was that she did showed a range of pretty amazing talent.

Back Roads will have two more performances. There is no admission charge and performance time is 7 p.m., rather than the usual 8 p.m.

No comments: