Dazzling Berkeley Rep play is a mind-stretching Rorschach test
The Berkeley Rep has developed an edifice complex — a two-story house creatively constructed from scratch on stage before my eyes.
More accurately, the Rep spotlights a dazzling, makeshift, see-through, complex edifice — in an almost-wordless play titled “Home” — that acts like a living, three-dimensional, Rorschach test every theatergoer can relate to based on his or her own life experiences, baggage and memories, a checklist of sorts that stretched my sight, hearing and mind.
“Home” contains more breakneck mood shifts than a bi-polar buddy of mine when he’s off his meds.
From humor to pathos, from joy to sadness, from calm to bliss.
Officially, it’s a unique blend of performance and installation art that features Obie winner and master absurdist playwright Geoff Sobelle, who in turn leads an ensemble rainbow cast of six other actors, dancers and designers and audience members in a celebration within and outside a framed but unfinished house that’s magical and filled with illusions.
Sobelle, a Stanford grad, has created an artwork like none I’ve seen before, although at times I did flash back to a wordless film or two of French mime Jacques Tati.
Unofficially, director Lee Sunday Evans keeps the 105-minute, intermission-less show moving at 800-horsepower Nascar speed while incorporating so many elements it would be impractical to try to cite them here.
Unforgettable, however, are:
• A series of hilarious nude entrances and exits from a shower (including a chorus line of torsos and heads wrapped in white towels) that surpass anything I’ve witnessed in classic farces like “Noises Off.”
• An ever-changing shindig that morphs from surprise party to birthday bash to New Year’s and Halloween celebrations to a funeral to amusement park midway-style merriment that jams theatergoers onto the set.
• Clownish appearances of person after person that pop out of beds, closets and a refrigerator.
• Illusions designed by Steve Cuiffo that have characters seamlessly and instantly change into other characters.
• Individuals choreographed by David Neumann so perfectly that when they’re gracefully moving myriad props from room to room, or strutting or moving in slo-mo up or down the staircase, there’s never a question of one even sideswiping another.
• Near-constant motion, contrasted with a few quiet pauses, that offer kaleidoscopic insights into the activities and thoughts of the home’s inhabitants and guests.
But despite all that originality, inventiveness and charm, “Home” isn’t for everyone.
If you’re looking for a plot, there is none.
And if you’re looking for the fleshing out of character, it’s present but you really must pay strict attention, a task that isn’t easy because action at any given time may be taking place in five rooms simultaneously, not too distant from my repeated sensation of attending a three-ring circus.
The main conceit of the play, though, is to lay out how important home is, even with the hundreds of ordinary human tasks it houses — an abode that blankets dreams and realities, and — as the company’s artistic director, Tony Taccone, outlines in the program — “the place of our deepest attachments.”
The carnival atmosphere, in fact, is embellished by the actors consistently pulling eager folks from the front and center of the audience to participate in the frolic and fantasy. Willing first-nighters were given cues and costumes designed by Karen Young that depicted Santa, a Viking, a cop and a bevy of other imaginary and real personas. One woman was handed a fake baby to coo over. Others — including food and wine expert Narsai David — remained standing by their seats, convincingly directed to hold strings of blinking lights that were being hung over the opening night crowd.
Admittedly, my hypnotic reaction to the play may have been more severe, more impactful than most: I could easily relate to its thematic building, altering and abandoning sequences because a massive windstorm recently caused major damage to my longtime San Anselmo home — including the collapse of my master bedroom ceiling three hours after I’d left my bed.
I still couldn’t help smiling throughout most of the production, and couldn’t help noticing that most of the audience was giggling or guffawing often (and didn’t hesitate to give the bowing cast a standing ovation).
Original songs by Elvis Perkins (who switches from autoharp to guitar to ukulele during the show) help push some of the show’s amorphousness forward, even though his poetic but oblique lyrics at first, second or third glance don’t connect directly to the concept of home.
In an article written by Sarah Rose Leonard for the program, she briefly recounts the history of mime and mentions Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau, then suggests what it’s all about: “Theatre stripped of language asks us to use our intuition, rather than our logical brains, to feel out a story rather than comprehend one. Perhaps that is what makes wordless performance so timeless and accessible.”
I think she’s right on. “Home,” in my mind, could, given a little time and reflection (and perhaps shortened by 15 minutes), be just that — timeless and accessible.
“Home” plays at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley, through April 21. Night performances, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $15 to $97. Information: 510-647-2949 or http://berkeleyrep.org.