nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
October 10, 2006
Mycenaean is one of those pieces that struggles to defy categorization. It's not exactly a play. It decries itself a "poetic opera," and while its performers do at times speak frilly lacy words and occasionally break out into song, none of this can hide the truth of what Mycenaean really is: performance art. This is not a bad thing. I like performance art. If you like it too, you'll like Mycenaean.
According to the BAM press release, Mycenaean is adapted from writer/director/producer/actor Carl Hancock Rux's poem "Mycenaean Born" and his recently released novel Asphalt, and is also inspired by the Hippolytus myth. The press release advises the story is of a modern mythical town whose inhabitants are plagued by dreams of the destroyed city of Mycenae. Thankfully, both the press release and the poem were provided for reference, or I can assure you I would never have fully understood what, exactly, took place on stage at the Harvey. I still don't fully "get it" and I had a press packet. To be fair, I didn't want to "get it"—if I did, I would've stayed home and watched TV. If you like to have your plot spoon-fed to you, this is not the show for you.
So, then, what happens in Mycenaean? I don't know. It's full of dreams, chaos, violence, and ultimately fear. Its tales are told from several perspectives, in the manner of dreams being retold, each scene compartmentalized and rehearsed enough to stand on its own. Many of the pieces fit together nicely to create a certain mood—no, a sense of being. I don't go to performance art for plot. I go to have an experience. Mycenaean provides many such mini-experiences within an overall arc. Some are told through outright and refreshingly good acting mixed with dance, song and poetry, accompanied by music and video.
The male principal, Carl Hancock Rux, who plays a mix between Racine (in this case a wandering DJ who was a hit in France, as well as the author, sort of) and Hippolytus, has a voice alone worth the trek to Brooklyn. It made me want to wrap myself up in it with a good book on a stormy day.
All the acting was so good, no other actors stand out. Helga Davis, Patrice Johnson, Tony Torn, David Barlow and Ana Perea made their jobs seem effortless. The dancing worked most of the time but occasionally felt like too much—honestly, everyone on stage was participating in activity, to the point that it became impossible to really follow along. I wasn't sure where to look, but wherever I did, I was engaged.
The music, created by Rux and Jaco van Schalkwyk, draws from influences from all over the world and helps guide us through the pieces. The videography, created by Pablo Molina and Jaco van Schalkwyk, occupies two see-through panels defining the stage; it was beautiful, but not essential. I hardly had time to pay attention to it given all the work the actors were putting forth on the stage.
The element I liked best about this production was the chorus. Usually when I see a show with a chorus I spend most of the time grumbling about how poorly the individuals go about presenting themselves as a collective. With this group it was almost painfully obvious how much they'd rehearsed their unison. In action, they ceased to be individuals and operated as one, harmonizing better than any chorus I've heard, making me think that, had I been in ancient times attending such a performance THIS is what the chorus would have sounded like.
The only elements that confused me were the masks and the costumes. The masks, designed by Alison Heimstead, were beautiful and amazing, chilling in their lack of emotion—a stark contrast to the actors, who are nothing but emotion—but they were used too sparingly. The costumes, coordinated by Toni-Leslie James, were thoughtfully modest, allowing the actors to wear them instead of the other way around, as it should be. They were, however, inexplicably trimmed with tie dye, which should be reserved only for Grateful Dead concerts. Given that the piece is about violence and its only outcome—more violence—if the costumes were going to be tie-dyed at least they could have been done so with blood.