by Richard Hinojosa · February 7, 2015
The very act of remembering alters our memories, much like in the game “telephone” in which a phrase is passed by whisper, one person to the next, around a circle in order to discover how the phrase changes in the process. Big, important memories are even more susceptible to change because we tend to replay them repeatedly. That said, it may seem immaterial to say that I can’t remember the last time I was so captivated by a production…but I can’t. I truly can’t.
The Orpheus Variations is a fully immersive postmodern theatre experience. It stands at the crossroads of art and science, perfectly blending the company’s take on neurology and theatre. Produced by The Deconstructive Theatre Project, it is indeed a deconstruction of the theater’s components. The characters are voices in your head. The text is an underplay of emotions. The setting is deep sorrow and longing. The plot is the subconscious mind cinematically panning across a memory. Based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, it is just as fascinating to follow their adaptation of the story and it is to see them creating live on stage.
The stage is filled with miniature sets for shooting very close-up camera shots of the characters’ speechless action. The shots are projected on a large screen that seems to hover at center stage. A table at right is piled high with various foley materials. Another table at left has monitors for reading the text and microphones dangling above it. The orchestra, mainly consisting of a violin, guitar and keyboard, sits inconspicuously up stage. The performers race about setting up and playing out the beautiful camera shots – a glass plane sprayed with water becomes a window through which a character stares out on a rainy evening; a cardboard box becomes a new life together by placing the camera underneath it as the characters unpack their memories and so on throughout the entire performance, one breathtaking shot after another tells the sad story of love and loss. I found myself not only watching the screen but the set up too. In true postmodern form, the pictures were always better than the real thing but I couldn’t help but survey what was not in the shot – on the screen a pair of feet wading in water, while on stage a girl standing in fish tank. It’s like watching a live art house film except without the popcorn.
The production company has been developing this show since 2012 and their dedication to it is very apparent. Conceived and directed by Adam J. Thompson, the production’s components, as well as the gears of its execution, come together to create something truly extraordinary. It is an ensemble effort. There is little to no specific credit listed in the program. The text, created by members of the ensemble, is poetic and stirring. The voice actors project an even tone that harmonizes with the text and action. I loved the build up to “Just come find me!” The ensemble members playing Orpheus and Eurydice dig deep and show it all in their faces and eyes. The ensemble members creating the foley and operating the cameras are amazing. The music, composed by Ryan Homsey, is haunting and cinematic. I loved the little added instruments he used such as the bird caller and the glockenspiel.
The Orpheus Variations is the sort of theatre that sticks with you. It’s something you tell your friends about when they ask you if you’ve seen anything “cool” lately. Our memories may very well be constantly changing – so is the theatre and The Deconstructive Theatre project is changing right along with it.