With its focus on voices, singular and communal, this Butler University production showcases the considerable talents of individual theater students, as well as a community of instructors who have massaged their technique, especially directors John Green and Diane Timmerman.
The most completely satisfying of the four works presented, The Book of Lamentations, is a biblical Cirque du Soleil in which 12 actors chant, sing and recite Old Testament poems written upon the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The stage is an X, with audience seating on every axis, allowing the players to run at each other, huddle in the center or pose from distant outposts. More than gimmickry, their physicality and shifting vocal tones denote the emotional aching and reaching of mourners at a funeral, a society after apocalypse. Through music by Frank Felice and choreography by Melli Hoppe, they ask, “Where is God?” The unspoken answer seems to be that He lives within their pain and in their striving to overcome.
For Sam Shepard’s Tongues, senior Katie Hannigan dons the classical robes of a Greek statue to slip in and out of the monologue’s multiple voices, now doomed existentialist, now child, now immigrant worker just hungry for a job. Hannigan and percussionist Robert Sollman beat out the rhythms of their voices, sometimes with playfulness, sometimes the sound of death itself.
Butler’s interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s A Piece of Monologue gives us two sprightly females in a role typically played by one bedraggled man. The women are suspended from the ceiling in two metal cages, as a shirtless man walks in the circle of light from a hurricane lamp. They succeed in tipping Beckett’s already disjointed text on its head, but not in illuminating its meaning.
The concluding art installation Paradise Lost recalls the visual inventiveness of all three previous works — Butler faculty and ShadowApe Theatre member Rob Koharchik designed sets and lighting. It might better be called Paradise Regained for its uplifting vocal music, accompanied by a downpour of feathers. I left Butler happily befuddled by the mysteries of theater and the wonder of creation.
Excerpts from this performance will be presented at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Saturday, Oct. 20: The Lamentations of Jeremiah section at 1 p.m., Tongues at 2 p.m. and Piece of Monologue at 3 p.m. Admission will be free; meet in Efroymson Entrance Pavilion.