(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)
Cleveland Public Theatre is noted for championing works by local artists. The theatre's newest offering, EARTH PLAYS (Part Two of the Elements Cycle) invited directors, performers and writers to focus on the themes of the earth and sustainability, using the technique of devised theater.
Rather than using a script written by a playwright, devised theater encourages collaborative creation, which may take the form of spoken dialogue, poetry, mime, music, dance, and electronic illusion as conceived by director, writers and performers. The process involves selecting a theme and then extracting ideas from that central axis.
EARTH PLAYS uses mythology, reality, and creation to examine the earth, its inhabitants, human cruelty, insensitivity, willful ignorance, greed, desire, short human shelf life, and love.
This is not improvisatory theatre. There is a script and the audience experience from night to night is fairly parallel. But, it is also not the traditional theatre of Shakespeare, Wilde or Williams. It is often abstract, doesn't follow the well-made format of beginning (exposition), middle (story development), and conclusion (dénouement). That lack of traditional format may be off-putting to some.
The overly long first act of EARTH PLAYS is quite uneven and often abstract. Adding to the issue is the constant physical movement of the audience. Numerous times during the opening segment participants are asked to change seats. The choreography of the chair movements is creative and well executed, but the purpose is not totally clear other than to add to the whimsy of the presentation. Though unique at the start, after a while the shuffling around becomes tedious.
Hearing also is problematic as CPT's performance space has a high ceiling and hard walls, causing echoes and dead spots. Especially difficult to hear is MEANTIME ANTHROPOCENE, a segment conceived and directed by Pandora Robertson, which was staged on scaffolding at the rear of the traditional stage. The "three stooges" dance/farce concept was very creative, but many of the lines could not be clearly be distinguished.
A journey to the center of the earth in search of a dead brother, global warming, and a five-part segment entitled THE DIGGERS, with text by Margaret Wise Brown, did little to grab and hold audience attention.
The second act, however, was much more effective. The sad plight of Smokey the Bear, the earth poetry of Walt Whitman, a creative dance segment performed by dancers entirely encased in plastic grocery bags, and an ending which pleaded for saving the environment, were all well conceived.
EARTH POOL, devised by Raymond Bobgan, found ten actor/dancers writhing in mud, illustrating a human's journey from dust to dust, the circle of each human returning to the earth.
A highlight vignette was THE TRANCED, conceived, directed and performed by Chris Seibert. The segment was a mesmerizing probe into the relationship of earth mothers. Jeremy Paul's equally effective SPARROW, found biologist, sperm donor, juggler Val Kozlenko probing human isolation and the curse of science.
The experience ended with Darius Stubbs, Carly Garinger, and Beth Wood pleading for the earth. Wood's appeal is especially effective as delivered in a beseeching and quivering voice.
Capsule judgement: Cleveland Public Theatre is noted for its experimental theatrical work. Though not for everyone, Ray Bobgan and his well intentioned group of creators, again challenges the senses in EARTH PLAYS (Part Two of the Elements Cycle) through the devised theatre method of creation.
EARTH PLAYS (Part Two Of The Elements Cycle)runs through March 9, 2013. For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.