According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, October 10, 2008


While this shimmering presentation is wildly engaging, if often dumbfounding, the treatment of a subject as huge the cosmos is bound to seem oversimplified—and maybe even a little silly—in the confined time and space in which it plays.

Photo/Jocelyn Gonzales

Reviewed by Lyssa Mandel
[See also: Aaron Riccio's review]

The Living Theatre doesn’t just Think Big, it Thinks Enormous. Their latest creation, penned by the late Hanon Reznikov and Judith Malina, tackles no less than the Big Bang itself. Specifically, Eureka! is an experiential, multisensory re-imagining of Edgar Allen Poe’s prose poem (of the same name), a reverie on the formation and potential destruction of the universe. Eureka! fulfills the Living Theater’s mission statement: “call[ing] into question who we are to each other in the social environment of the theater.” But while the shimmering presentation is wildly engaging, if often dumbfounding, the treatment of a subject as huge the cosmos is bound to seem oversimplified—and maybe even a little silly—in the confined time and space in which it plays.

Evaluating Eureka! as theater would short-change and misrepresent the multidisciplinary work, which is equal parts performance art, video installation, hands-on exhibit, chemistry lesson, and audience participation. The experience is meant to feel bizarre and dreamlike throughout, and it forces the audience to question its role. Although the Living Theatre prides itself on involving its viewers, this is far from a simple call and response. Patrons are coaxed by urgent cast members to help create the performance as it unfolds, taking part in the sounds and movement to add to the voice of the Collective.

Don’t expect to sit passively as the magic unfolds: instead, the audience stands in the center of the murky performance space itself, surrounded by a web of zigzagging scaffolding poles (and statuesque actors). Projection screens at both ends display ever-morphing images of the cosmos, spliced and overlaid with live feed of audience members as they explore the space. After several minutes in this deep blue gallery of hushed waiting and discovery, the black-clad performers silently descend one by one from their frozen perches, and their poise and physical control let us know that we’re in good hands long before a single word is uttered. (The performers must be fearless for us to trust them; they are.) The disintegration of the fourth wall is like a gradual dip into a cold swimming pool. One cautious toe at a time, the audience acclimates to the idea of zero distance between performer and observer. By the end of the process, one is expected to fully submerge. (I was almost to that point; perhaps with a larger crowd of patrons I would have been even closer.)

Helping the audience get there is the sullen Mr. Poe (played with youthful vigor and austerity by Anthony Sisco): as he speaks about his gnawing search for answers to the Big Bang, what has followed since, and what is to come, the play picks up momentum, sweeping the audience into its undertow. In a chronological whirlwind of evolution set to rippling music by Patrick Grant and fantastical lighting by Gary Brackett, we are led through a maze of general evolutionary drama alongside Poe, as if traveling inside his head while he works through the problem of humanity’s existence and potential extinction. (Yes, it’s a lot of ground to cover in 75 minutes.)

Judith Malina directs with a warm and meticulous hand, though the content sometimes comes across as pretentious. The ensemble shape-shifts from trembling atoms to personified elements, and they are the infectiously confident blood and guts of the whole experience. But for this avant-garde experiment to work, the theatergoer must not only enter with an open mind, but remain pliable throughout--it might be too optimistic to ask for such willing volunteers.

Eureka! is unselfconsciously embracing, a riotous ode to serendipity, empowerment, and harmonious cooperation. However, the audience is implicated so aggressively that it becomes off-putting and even uncomfortable. The Living Theatre means so well and asks for connection so pleadingly that it’s hard to say no, but the novelty of the hands-on project and the distraction it creates in the “viewer” threatens to overshadow the actual story being told.

Eureka! @ The Living Theater (21 Clinton Street)
Tickets: $20 (Wednesday: Pay-What-You-Can)
Performances (through 11/9): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 4

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