In Search of Lost Time

12. November, 2011 Theater No comments


Show #107: Sticky Time, Crowded Fire, October 29.

Rami Margron, Lawrence Radecker and Michele Leavy in Sticky Time. Photo by Dave Nowakowsaki.

By Sam Hurwitt

There’s a Willie Nelson song that asks, “Ain’t it funny how time slips away?” The funny thing about Crowded Fire Theater’s new world premiere Sticky Time is that time in it slips all over the place, refusing to stick at all. Written and directed by company member Marilee Talkington in a coproduction with Talkington’s own Vanguardian Productions, Sticky Time is a dazzlingly disorienting piece of theater that sets your head spinning. You’re never sure exactly what’s going on, and that won’t clear up by the time it’s over, but it leaves its mark as an onslaught for the senses.

Always a mutable space, Brave Theater Center’s small upstairs venue is completely transformed, with the audience on rotating office chairs in the center of the room and an elevated stage on all sides. Patterns of gray plumbing and strips of white curtain line the walls in Andrew Lu’s set, and a forest of fishhook-curved wires hangs above. With a shaved head and a tattered white dress, Mollena Williams sits impassively amid the audience on one of those chairs, her amplified breathing an ambient rumble. From time to time she gasps and murmurs, “Now!”

There’s a boom, then workers clad in almost-matching jumpsuits stagger around pleading to one of their number, Thea (Rami Margron), but we don’t know what they’re pleading for. Their words are broken and garbled, cutting in and out like a bad mobile phone connection. Convulsing rhapsodically with a crazed grin Williams launches into a convoluted, nakedly introductory monologue with many layers of contradictions (“My father used to say…I ‘m lying, I never had a father…or perhaps I’m wrong…but if I did, he’d say…”; “So you see, this story is about me, and what I mean when I say that is it is about you”). Talkington’s poetic script is as clever and thought-provoking as it is maddeningly arcane.

It’s unclear where we are. Thea and her crew are maintenance workers, and what they maintain is time. Their jumpsuits (costumed by Maggie Whitaker) and the setting are reminiscent of a sci-fi space station, and the way they talk seems vaguely futuristic, but all we really glean is that they exist in some respect outside of time. Thea is the stern supervisor, Lawrence Radecker’s Tim(e) is jovial and level-headed and Michele Leavy’s Emit is flaky and chronically late. Williams’s character, called The Only, is especially confusing. It seems as if she exists in a separate space from the others, reacting to what they say as if greedily feeding off some emotions and being given physical pain by others, seemingly at random. But from time to time crew members come to her spilling their guts as if she’s the ship’s counselor, while she responds in oracular gibberish.

Thea accidentally gets plugged into the timestream while trying to repair something, and the next thing we know she’s hooked, mainlining time while no one’s looking. When she does it she sees herself and her coworkers as a happy family having picnics, speaking in rhyme and frolicking in fields, wearing modern-day casual clothes—as seen projected on the screens around us—and for her it’s like she’s seeing the real world for the first time. But she’s stealing time when she plugs in, and the more she does it the more timequakes plague the crew, the more they feel stalked by a huge ravenous beast, and the more they play out the same scene over and over in increasingly fractured form.  Time is breaking down all around us.

The production makes heavy and effective use of video projection, animated by Rebecca Longworth with Lloyd Vance’s cinematography. Besides the glimpses of an exotic other world suspiciously like our own (if we rhymed all the time, anyway), we see an undulating network of red cords that represent the threads of time, or fiery after-images of people’s motions blurring behind them. Colin Trevor’s sound design is full of ominous creaking, booms and animal sounds.

The play’s only an hour, but the sense of time by that point has become so exploded that it seems awfully short and very long at the same time. The story is fractured when it starts and only becomes more so. A few of the pieces come close to coming together as everything else comes flying apart, but by that point it seems almost beside the point. Just as ambient, immersive experience, the production is marvelously effective on a visceral level even as it baffles on an intellectual one. You know something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is—and that’s okay. You’re probably better off that way.

Sticky Time runs through November 19 at Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., San Francisco.


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