Lvrgrl’s Weblog

A Dark Dream Realized
August 16, 2010, 4:44 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

In a small theatre on a cobblestone street in the heart of the city’s most prominent art gallery district, director Jay Scheib recently presented the premiere of his masterful adaptation of a cultishly adored science fiction novel.  The story itself, based on Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, tells of a city wrought with chaos out of which violence, sex and creative genius emerge.  The performance allows this chaos to take shape within the bodies of the cast and the work of the crew giving to the audience a palatable vision of what true community could provide in a world without boundaries.

The Kitchen, the darling of NYC’s performance art venues, is often the site of perceptive and challenging work.  The venue originally opened on the lower east side, just blocks away from where Delany himself was living, before relocating to Chelsea in the late 80’s. On most any night the theatre is packed with audience members eager to see something thought-provoking, the nights between April 1st and April 10th of this year being no different.

Within the drama’s fictionalized city of Bellona all havoc has broken loose: a prominent black radical has been murdered, a young woman has been raped and the city’s newspaper has been monopolized all as the result of an apocalyptic fire the origins of which are unknown.  In the midst of this chaos we see two distinct methods of managing: one from a group of outsiders confronting their differences and another from a family of four trying to hold on to the lives they led before the fire.

True to the book, the play aims to give the nebulous boundary between the real and the constructed a tangible tension.  Intimate moments take place behind the set’s few walls and are projected onto a video screen at the front of the stage mediating moments of both psychological and physical vulnerability.  The action is filled with sex and violence and the story includes love and loss, all of which is seen both on the screen and in the flesh.

While the stripped down set design and the video feed contributed to the mood the technical details were overall less important than the strength of the ensemble performance. Sarita Choudhury portrayed the protagonist’s wide emotional landscape with ease, gracefully moving between a tough explorer, a vulnerable lover, a hurt chid depending on what the moment required.  Mikeah Ernest Jennings delivers an equally complex performance by tackling two roles at once; one a man assassinated for his political views and another a man aggrandized for his potent sexuality.  Tanya Selvaratnam adopted a ritualistic mirror gazing, face-slapping, hip shaking dance when her sex crazed house mom character was left home alone.

In the end the production provided a sophisticated vision of a traditional family relationship turned cold from formality along with the intimate struggles of an explorer searching for and authenticity.  Throughout both interwoven stories were examples of people hurting and helping each other and the terrible back and forth between the two extremes.  The play provided the feeling of what it’s like be in the midst of chaos and served as a reminder that embracing confusion may be the only way to experience moments of clarity.

Bellona, Destroyer of Cities
after Samuel R. Delany’s science-fiction masterpiece ‘Dhalgern’
Adapted and Directed by Jay Scheib
Premiere: 1-10 April 2010 at The Kitchen, NYC
Next Performance: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, May 2011

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