Saturday, July 14, 2007

Light my Fire

Nope, it's not The War of the Worlds, just The Crucible's Fire Arts Festival, featuring a dramatic and fiery adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.

A parking lot in Oakland became a little bit of Burning Man, and with the BART trains whooshing by above us, it took on a wonderfully science fiction quality. I can only imagine what strangeness uninformed commuters thought they were seeing.

What we saw on the ground was a marvelous array of small and huge metal sculptures that shot flames, many with audience interaction, particularly the giant snake, quite a favorite. Each vertebrae was a different flame controlled by buttons pressed by audience members. Occasionally a big shot blasted out, giving us all a pleasurable fright.

The show itself, in a large arena worthy of a rock concert, tried to offer up a flaming rendition of the tale of Odysseus and his roving ship of lost men. Some attempts were made to contemporaize it, but they seemed inconsistent. At one point, Odysseus is nicknamed "the Decider" (Bush; get it?), but later, he's a sympathetic veteran. We're supposed to like Odysseus, not hate him. Easton Smith, who played Romeo in The Crucible’s production of Romeo & Juliet—A Fire Ballet, played Odysseus. Our seats were too far off to see the players, but his voice had an unexpected sexy gravel to it. Although it may not be appropriate to their technique and style, video projection screens showing close-ups of the actors would have been helpful.
Some other conceits like comparing the Cyclops to Congress, etc, didn't work (neither did his mike). The addition of a crew member/break dancer who actually had one of those artificial spring metal legs was wonderful, though, as were the contortionist and acrobats.

But the stodgy script and numerous gaps kept the drama from unfolding well, despite the pleasingly gargantuan special effects. Imagine a staged reading as done by the flaming head of the Wizard of Oz. The effects wear down after a while. Still, the explosive ending, damn near apocalyptic, with the cityscape surrounding us, was unique, and I'm glad I witnessed it.
Oh, and my friend Stephen and I also survived a gang shooting that took place on a street only two blocks from the show. Stephen's car missed being riddled with bullets by a few feet. It served as an interesting entre d''acte.

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