photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography
Marc Geller and Mac McCord in Burning Coal Theatre Company's Darkside
Through Sunday, Oct. 29
Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh
Let’s get the consumer advisory out of the way. If you’re looking for a rock-and-blues bliss-out after some pre-show doobage, Brit Floyd, the Pink Floyd tribute band, will be in Charlotte next month.
(Enjoy the light show.) For all its achievements and difficulties, Burning Coal’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Darkside
, a work that, unlike The Wizard of Oz
, was intentionally crafted to sync up with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon
, is not that kind of trip.
At first, there is an air of playfulness in central character Emily McCoy’s not entirely guided tour through Philosophy 101 thought experiments. But when it burns off like the morning haze, the doors of perception open onto something closer to a full-force bummer. Initially, the gray acoustic tiles lining Margaux Maeght’s curved, permeable multistory set suggest a recording studio like Abbey Road, where the famous album was made. Soon enough, we learn they’re also intended to represent the walls of a different type of padded room.
Should that development disappoint you, as it clearly did a few last Friday night, you may have lost sight of why the album was recorded in the first place. The Dark Side of the Moon
was originally anything but the aural comfort food that it ultimately became. After the indirection of Pink Floyd's previous albums, it aimed its discontent at the bleak prospects facing the era’s directionless youth, where the standard workplace and the military were equally happy to devour their lives in an atmosphere of needless divisiveness, greed, and unsustainable velocity. All were detrimental to the sanity of our culture in the early seventies, and all are still present now.
Some will take it as the ultimate snub that this field trip through the frontal lobes actually isn’t for or about the boomers who first came of age to The Dark Side of the Moon
. It’s about the political and ecological threats that generation either never solved or made worse, which now loom above us all.
Theatrically, Stoppard’s work, originally written as a BBC radio play in 2013, is problematic in ways guest director Pálína Jónsdóttir cannot solve and the psychedelic videos of Elliot Storey cannot conceal. Marc Geller, as an ominous conservative inquisitor, Cody Hill’s affecting performance , and even central characters including Emily (Davitta Singletary) and Professor Baggott (a sterling Brian Linden) aren’t fleshed out enough in the script to be much more than thought experiments themselves. And the transitions between scenes and passages from the album are clunky at best.
And yet Stoppard captures, for a moment, some of the impact that Pink Floyd’s work has had since 1973, in Emily’s halting speech to save an arid world and the bleaker diagnosis that follows it. To quote from another rock contemporary of that time, drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.