Through Oct 16.
I have always disliked the fruitier side of theater—the aspect championed by touchy-feely, art-as-therapy groupies who inevitably sport soul patches, a pop-psychobabble vernacular, and meaningful tattoos. That crowd always seemed unsophisticated and pretentious, devoted to smothering hard truth, courageous humor, and everything else worthwhile about art under a pillow of platitudes. So imagine my surprise when I found myself one of 20 blindfolded people, squirming on the floor in a pile of newspaper, listening to ambient laptop noise and freeform clarinet, delicately touching fingers with a stranger, and hoping the experience wouldn't end.
Axolotl is a Nahuatl word for a blind albino salamander, which is what you feel like during the performance. Audience members don blindfolds and leave their bags, shoes, and recreational irony at the door. "Facilitators" lead you into the space to explore blindly for two hours, wandering through ambient noise, randomly strewn objects, and lots of bodies to touch or avoid as the mood strikes you. Fellow audience members usually touch tentatively, exploring hands, hair, and feet. The facilitators—who, as the only seeing people in the room, are the real spectators—cradle, grapple, or massage. At one point, somebody tore off my socks, and rubbed me down with crumpled newspaper, saying, "Good bath! What a good bath!" Somebody else persistently asked what I was "looking for" (and wouldn't take my evasions for an answer), leading to a conversation about metaphysics and doubt. A woman with a beautiful voice took me into a different room, wrapped me in a blanket, put a stuffed animal in my lap, and whispered short sentences about contentment in my ear.
I left the theater shell-shocked. It was easily the oddest, most surprising performance experience I've ever had. And, against all expectations, one of the most rewarding. BRENDAN KILEY
Death of a Salesman
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center
Through Nov 6.
Somehow, by God, I've gotten to be 27 years of age without ever being exposed to Death of a Salesman. Never read it in school, never saw Dustin Hoffman in the movie, nothing. My first and only experience of the Arthur Miller play happened at Langston Hughes with an all-black cast. Regardless of race, Salesman's power is undeniable; its indictment of American self-delusion and soulless materialism cuts to the quick.
An opponent of cross-color casting, August Wilson once remarked: "Death of a Salesman with a black cast—that's not the way blacks respond to this problem. It's a white play. It's intended to be." Intention seems beside the point in Jacqueline Moscou's production—and William Hall Jr.'s performance as Willy Loman in particular. He crows, cries, and eventually crumbles like the part was written for him. Umeme's inspired take on the spectral Uncle Ben was terrific—he personified the larger-than-life image that haunts his brother. The cross-color casting added nuances to the script, making one consider not just the tragic trajectory of the Lomans, but their status as a working-class black family in the 1950s; the play's silence on the subject of the crushing injustice they face makes Loman's breakdown feel that much more dire.
A story as timeless as Death of a Salesman resonates, whatever the setting. This all-black version is no twist, no experiment—it is a test of the play's gospel. By that standard, this production is a consonant success. LARRY MIZELL JR.
Last Train to Nibroc
Through Oct 29.
It's hard to believe that playwright Arlene Hutton wrote this charming and thoughtful romantic comedy only five years ago. Last Train to Nibroc, currently playing at Taproot Theatre, hearkens back to a simpler time when a play could succeed without offering eye-bleeding spectacle, verbal pyrotechnics, or the definitive answer to the meaning of life.
The small but surprisingly entertaining Last Train to Nibroc has far more modest intentions, offering the audience only the pleasure of watching two well-drawn characters on a mostly bare stage as they navigate the eternal mystery of courtship.
It's 1940 on a train bound east from California carrying the bodies of Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Raleigh (Timothy Hornor), a young soldier with ambitions of becoming a writer, takes a seat next to a pretty but very proper girl (Charity Parenzini) who dreams of doing missionary work in far-flung locales. But the soldier has just been mysteriously discharged and the girl isn't quite as prim as she seems. For the next three acts—spanning three years—they talk, they laugh, they flirt, and they argue. In less capable hands, it could have been insufferable.
But director Karen Lund has carefully marshaled every element of stagecraft—evocative scenic and sound design by Mark Lund, lovely costumes by Sarah Jane Burch, and strong but subtle lighting by Andrew Duff—to lift the story and let these two heartbreakingly talented actors take flight. It's the darnedest joy to watch. TAMARA PARIS