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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA Studio Series gets weird with new experimental piece

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    “The First Celestial Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine, Fire Extinguisher, or words, Words, POOF!” is the latest production mounted by the UA Studio Series, and if you’re already confused by the title, then nothing else about this show will make much sense.

    The ensemble-driven piece manipulates the audience’s expectations by experimenting with narrative, character and context. There is no actual plot but rather a collection of seemingly sporadic vignettes tied together with a thread of irrationality.

    Inspired by the mid-20th century art movements of Futurism and Dada, this high-energy performance piece feels like a psychedelic acid trip infused with poignant moments of humor and catharsis.

    The show begins before the lights have even gone to black as actors filter on-and-off the stage carrying a multitude of unusual props. Ryan Kinseth, a theatre arts senior, appropriately stalks the audience asking for suggestions to finish a Mad Lib riddle, a preface for the perfectly-orchestrated randomness that is about to ensue.

    During these pre-show debacles, the audience is meant to feel uncomfortable as other ensemble members interrogate, inquire and cozy up to unsuspecting viewers. The actual performance begins with an ensemble member shouting a manifesto while stuffing her mouth full of marshmallows. Don’t worry, it’s not supposed to make any sense.

    The purpose of Futurism and Dada is to break the mold, to subvert the Aristotelian model of storytelling that has dominated Western culture for centuries. There are no protagonists or antagonists, and not even any hint of dramatic realism. What you see on stage takes the conventions of theatergoing and flips them upside down.

    At times using gibberish, gimmicky props and physical violence, this theater spectacle identifies the artificiality of modern art and the need for nonsensical circumstances to understand life’s absurdities.

    The show’s frequent use of repetition in actions and dialogue may come across as annoying, but it does serve a purpose. In a short scene between two elderly gentlemen who go through the same monotonous trifles year after year until both end up dead, the quick disposal of their bodies is sharp commentary on the insignificance of life.

    Some scenes are more abstract than others. A notable moment in the cascade of lunacy is a silent love story between a googly-eyed spatula and dinner plate. Unfortunately, the romance doesn’t last long.

    The appeal of devised theater pieces are their unexpected nature. Actors can be imitating ferocious lions in one scene and then transition into dancing buffaloes in the next without any explanation. It is not the responsibility of the artists to explain their art to the audience in an accessible Walt Disney-fashion.

    Directed by Melissa Thompson, an assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television, this performance is a refreshing departure from other plays staged by the Studio Series. Thompson’s background in experimental theater at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers UA theater students an opportunity to explore a nontraditional style of performance. Judging by the energy of the ensemble, it would seem the student cast is enjoying the spontaneity of Dada and Futurism.

    Not recommended for those who prefer the kitchen-sink dramas of Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, this performance piece is untamed, eccentric and pleasantly maniacal. It’s guaranteed to be a sensual experience that will seriously warp your mind.

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    Follow Kevin C. Reagan on Twitter.

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