A beatific smile wreathes director Rus Hames' face as he gleefully sums the plot of Ctrl-Alt-Delete, his company's new stage piece, in four words: "It's Frankenstein meets Pinnochio."
The new work, the first regional performance by Blue Monday Productions, is something of an artistic Frankenstein itself on several levels. First, there's its genre-bending amalgamation of visual art, poetry, theater and multi-media.
Then consider the stitched-together texts for the performance: Bondage--A Cabaret, a work Hames wrote while attending NYU; the notebooks of avant-garde pioneer Richard Foreman, released to the world with his blessings for performance (on the Internet, at www.ontological.com); the one-man show Time of Mine, which co-creator and visual artist Joe Brack wrote for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Don't forget the ruined shards of electronica--motherboards, cables, drives and the like--that Brack and Hames' collaborators started dragging in at some point during Ctrl-Alt-Delete's gestation period. "They'd say 'I don't know, but it speaks to me on some level,'" Brack remembers. Hames commiserates: "We'd find an object, and we'd find a piece of text."
Then there's the experimental process its creators call "image-based theater," a form of theatrical collage in which participants (Blue Monday co-founders Stella Duffy and Anthony Hughes, regional actors Daryl Stephenson, Merrybelle Park, Thaddeus Edwards and Betzi Hekman) began with Brack's disparate images and slowly uncovered deeper connections between them, the various texts and a series of characters they gradually unearthed over the past year and a half.
No, it's not exactly Our Town. But its creators hope it is a challenge--and alternative--to theater-as-usual in the Triangle.
Particularly given the work's subject matter, you might want to call it a change in programming. And even if it falls or flies apart, at this writing Ctrl-Alt-Delete constitutes one of the most audacious theatrical experiments this area has seen since the days of the Somnambulist Project.
Joe, its central character, is the latest generation of "bio-anamorphic mechanicals" that a misanthrope called Strange Man has first invented and then endowed with facets of his own psychoses. "Monologue Man was his first attempt," Hames notes, "a dirty old man. At first Strange Man created these mechanicals as sexual surrogates, but since he stopped working on him mid-way through, Monologue Man has no outlet for his sexual drives and ends up expressing them in very odd ways."
"After that," says Brack, "came He and She--a couple that works very well together. Then came Joe. The audience knows he's a machine, but Joe doesn't. As Strange Man introduces his latest creation, Dream Woman, Joe begins to figure out things--including that he isn't 'real.'"
"The play's about what happens when a created being finds out he's been created," Brack says. "We have a creator who wants to play God, and Joe who just wants to be a real boy."
So, how do you create a dark comedy out of images, bad polyvinyl chloride, wire and disconnected narratives (with the odd ontological excursion)?
"We worked very hard on bringing a coherent plot, but that was toward the end of the process," Hames recounts. "The process itself had to do with people's perspectives, images and character development."
"We were confronted with how to make these people people," Brack says. "As actors would be reading text and working through various exercises, we'd be asking each other a lot of basic questions. 'What is this? Why did they say that?' It was very ensemble-oriented, but nothing where someone sat down and said, 'Joe is a 25-year-old blah-blah-blah.'"
Then the pair and their collaborators looked for underlying rules--the social software for the world.
Neither is saying whether they then began debugging the code--or adding new bugs to it.
"I want the audience to think," Brack does say. "I want them to walk away and go 'I have no idea what I just watched--and I was really interested in what was going on.' Or if people left saying 'That was really, really pretty,' I would be happy."
"This show is very funny, and it will punch you in the gut," Hames rejoins. "It's probably unlike anything our audience has seen before."
Tall words--and tall ambitions. We see how things play out when Blue Monday interrupts our programming this weekend at Common Ground Theatre.