Under the Sign of the Hourglass…
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 16, 2006
"There is no monopoly on creation!" says the father figure in Anthony Cerrato's truly inspired production Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Cerrato has been working with Richard Foreman for the past three years and with this production he proves the validity of that opening quote. This production is as mystical, artsy, and visually stimulating as any of Foreman's experimental productions, and yet in many ways it's more accessible.
The play is set inside the childhood memories of Joseph, the son of a merchant obsessed with profound creation, and follows him as he finds the memories that created his identity. Along the way we meet the members of his strange family and other folks who influenced his life. His father is both for and against him giving him vital information at some points, while torturing him with madness and misdirection at others. His mother has been lying to him about his father's condition. There are also two seamstresses, one of whom most certainly helped shape his sexual identity. For much of the play Joseph is searching for an unnamed book that I took to be a symbol for his life story. Cerrato fills the show with lots of great symbols of life and creation, such as his use of fabric ("the fabric of life can be found in the weave of a cloth") and others like the egg and words on the page.
Cerrato also creates some stunning stage pictures and connects them seamlessly with lights, movement, and music. There are scene changes but they feel more like short breaths taken between sentences. The action is as slow and defined as it is chaotic. The piece is inspired by the work of Bruno Schulz—the avant-garde Polish short story writer and painter—and while it's not a direct adaptation there are lines of his that are directly quoted. Schulz's work is highly poetic and packed with imagery, and Cerrato uses Schulz's eloquence to form the beautiful theatrical language of the show. Cerrato's writer, Stephen Cedars, does an excellent job molding together Schulz's lines and other original dialogue to push forward Cerrato's theme of every soul's right—if not obligation—to create.
The ensemble is second to none. Cerrato has them all committed to the same elevated reality and they all take to it like paint to a canvas. Joshua Briggs does a fine job, showing the fullest range of emotion as the character that actually lives in reality. I was very impressed with Stephanie Taylor's subtle looks and gestures as the Mother, despite the fact that she had only a little stage time. But it's Rob Skolitis who left the largest impression on me. His frenetic and yet precise characterizations tightly held my attention.
Also very impressive are the lighting and the sound. Owen Hughes's light design is so exquisite. He uses a gamut of different kinds lights mixed with different colors and he places so they are both hidden and in our faces. Sound designer Jonathan Zalben lends the show a mysterious and mellow score that accentuates the beautiful stage pictures while creating some mental pictures of its own.
Throughout the show I found myself following Cerrato's lead and just when I thought I might be lost he'd give me signpost—a short bit of dialogue or action—that I could use to orient myself. In the case of this show, experimental theatre remembers to experiment with the human psyche and ideas instead of just experimenting with the conventions of the theatre.