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Weekend Two in the Studio Theater at NWNW

The Eternal Glow Project’s Ω < 1 Photo by Tim Summers
On the Boards’ 2013 NW New Works Festival has been thirty years in the making, with festival presenters working each year to showcase experiments in theatrical art forms from regional artists. For two weeks this year, On the Boards filled both Mainstage and Studio Theaters with works by seventeen artists from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The second weekend of Studio Theater performances was comprised of four works by Jeffrey Fracé, The Eternal Glow Project, Amador/Stokes, and Paris Hurley. On the NW New Works website, each work has been defined by the art forms of which it consists (theater, theater/dance, theater, and dance/music). These stated categories were an interesting counterpoint to watching the works, as three of the four pieces blurred the lines between choreography and blocking to create an amalgamation of theatrical performance art.
Fracé’s Harp Song for a Radical used Marguerite Young’s book of the same title about labor organizer Eugene Debs as inspiration, re-setting the action in 1980 with a group of young underground pirate radio DJs. Characters were fleshed out through DJ monologues as they attempted find a connection to the unseen radio audience. A sense of restlessness, fed by the energy of constant movement, created a frenetic atmosphere where characters attempted to find connection with each other, with radio listeners, with the universe. A particularly beautiful moment was when Wade Madsen appeared as Eugene Debs in a pas de trois that oscillated between the frenzy of the group scenes and a calm acceptance of fate. Fracé built multiple climaxes into this short work, each building upon the previous until the end, where a suicide precipitated one final statement before the lights went out: “Has anyone ever said anything to you that made any sense?”–a final plea for understanding that echoed into the darkness. Fracé plans to expand this into a full evening work for 2014.

Jeffrey Fracé’s Harp Song for a Radical Photo by Tim Summers
In The Eternal Glow Project’s Ω < 1, Tim Smith-Stewart and Jeffrey Azevedo explored the meaning of the end of the universe. This clever work was like a curious mixture of NPR’s Science Friday and This American Life as Smith-Stewart and Azevedo unfolded a seemingly personal story that connected growing up and the certainty of dying to a desperate fascination with the inevitable end of the universe. A humorous use of projected photos and documents combined with storytelling and science lecture, Ω < 1 was excellently crafted in a unique presentational format. Performers rolled out a large painter’s cloth to cover the floor, then, in choreographed movements, staged Lego-like wooden set pieces.  These pieces eventually fit together as a park bench where the performers etched Smith-Stewart’s emotional words into unfinished wood slats. As Smith-Stewart continued to narrate his fear of universal infinity and annihilation, the performers buried him under the weight of the bench pieces, copying his movements like images reflected in mirror shards. Ω < 1 culminated in a crescendo of music and narration, audibly etching Smith-Stewart’s desperation into the consciousness of the audience.  Perhaps all collegiate lectures could be presented in this format?
Writer Nick Stokes and director José Amador presented an excerpt from a longer play with DUELS: Orange. Three characters haunted by their pasts collide in a garden outside an orchard blooming with collective memory. Perhaps the placement of this work following the high-pitched energy of the two previous pieces made DUELS: Orange seem lacking in comparison, or possibly this excerpt needed the context of the full work for clarity as the relationships in the love triangle did not convey the weight or complexity of reality.
Paris Hurley’s Beware the Illusion of Perfection Photo by Tim Summers
Hurley’s Beware the Illusion of Perfection combined monologues, choreography, and original music in a work about societal perceptions and dictates of femininity versus the individuality of female experience. Hurley uses three main women, backed by a non-speaking Greek chorus of six women clad in black undergarments, to confront these issues. The music, recorded and produced by Hurley and Jherek Bischoff, was enchanting throughout. Sections of this work were especially well performed, such as the passionate knee-work solo in a pile of dirt and a series of one-sided “pas de deux” between a performer and her suit jacket. Overall, however, Beware felt unfinished, especially during the ending section where the three main women came together to dance in unison.  The energy of these performers seemed corralled and cut short—a missed opportunity.
With such a small house presenting such interesting new art, the second weekend of NW New Works Studio Theater performances sold out. Hopefully, these artists will continue to present their work locally to provide further opportunities for Seattle audience consumption. Fortunately, tickets are still available for Mainstage performances on Saturday, June 14 and Sunday June 15 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit the On the Boards website.