Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fate and Spinoza

Any idiot can say God works in mysterious ways but only the scientists are proving it.

This is one of the central themes of "Fate and Spinoza," a new work by Granada Artist-in-Residence and 2007 Pulitzer Prize Finalist Rinde Eckert, with music composed by Eckert and Rich Gaarde, which premiered at the UCD Main Theatre on Friday evening. Gaarde also provides the musical accompaniment for the show from a spot off to the side on the stage.

Writers use lots of material as inspiration for plots of books or plays or musical works, but it seems fair to say that “Ethics” by Spinoza, a philosophical treatise based on geometric principles, would probably not be high on the list. But then Rinde Eckert is no ordinary playwright, as his large body of work will attest. Still, Eckert manages to make it all work, in a visually pleasant production filled with rich vocabulary and a gorgeous choral work which seems to come from out of nowhere somewhere in the middle.

“Fate and Spinoza”is more “philosophy driven” than “plot driven,” but the story revolves around April Lansky (Hope Mirlis), a wife, mother and engineer who designs satellites and telescopes. Lansky is inexplicably compelled to revisit a hotel from her past that is about to be torn down. There she encounters the ghost of artist David (Spinoza) Cornell (Matt Moore) and also the Devil (Timothy Orr) and, in conversation with them, reflects on her life choices and begins to come to terms with her present.

The action of the play is seen from the viewpoint of April. Through dialogue with the characters in the room that once was the artist's studio, she recovers that which she lost 20 years earlier.

The room seems to be a magical place, not necessarily a rational place. Things happen which may not happen in the real world (such as the meeting with the Devil). By virtue of the fact that April spends the entire play in the room, she is separated from her family but is still able to witness what they are going through.

There are a lot of story-telling issues that go into a study of something so complex and Eckert uses several devices to do it. Anna Schumacher plays April’s daughter Delia, and is also one of the classic “Fates” who provide much of the narrative. Vicky Zelaya is another of the fates.

Perhaps the clearest bit of philosophy is offered by two tile setters, Victor Toman and Travis Dukelow, who put their lunch boxes down and discourse on the notion of “wasting time.” The particular scene is very funny, yet at its conclusion you realize that you have just been given a lot of very deep thoughts to mull over.

“What do you mean waste of time?” “What do I mean what do I mean ‘waste of time?’ A waste of time is a waste of time! We all know what we mean!” “No we don’t. No one knows what we mean by that.” The character goes on to say that discussing “a waste of time” is in itself a waste of time.

Hope Mirlis is one of the actors who shines in this strong cast of characters, as does Timothy Orr, whose “Devil” is less evil than we have come to expect. His identity is hinted at in the red accents to his costume and the red bath of light in which he stands (costume design by Nancy Pipkin, scenic and lighting design by Carrie Mullen).

“Fate and Spinoza” may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but, as with everything Rinde Eckert does, it will leave the audience thinking about things that they had never thought about before.

And that definitely is no waste of time!

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