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The Sound of Silence

A play without words speaks volumes

Single Carrot Theatre
The night girl, Alexandra Lewis, and day boy, Nathan Fulton, meet in the middle.
Single Carrot Theatre
Ensemble members Genevieve de Mahy and Nathan Cooper check out Giti Jabaily's evil eye as Watho.

By John Barry | Posted 12/2/2009

Illuminoctem

By Single Carrot Theatre

Through Dec. 20 at Single Carrot Theatre

In the opening scene of Single Carrot Theatre's Illuminoctem, you may wonder if you've shown up in the right theater. As composer Jesse Case's score thumps, we see actress Giti Jabaily elaborately dressed up in feathers-sort of an evil Ice Capades witch. One of her hands sports long steel nails. Her assistant (played by Nathan Cooper), dressed up as a wolf, starts bouncing off the wall and walking on his hands.

Once again, Single Carrot Theater has made a concerted effort to destroy its theatrical comfort zone. Last season, it performed both ensemble-constructed Slampooned, a play made entirely out of slam poetry, and by a by-the-book production of Henrik Ibsen's classic The Wild Duck. This season kicked off with Sarah Ruhl's modern reworking of the Orpheus myth, Eurydice. Now, in another ensemble effort under the direction of Brendan Ragan, the company has decided to dispense with words entirely. Ragan himself explains in the liner notes that it started with one idea: "throw away the script."

By any standard, it's a bit of a risk. In Baltimore, movement theater is usually associated with trained dancers offering three-day runs at Theatre Project. By inviting four different choreographers-three from the Baltimore area-to collaborate, Single Carrot is breaking down a stifling barrier between the dance and theater communities. What emerges is a liberating, if slightly chaotic, 70-minute piece that will, hopefully, lead to further collaborations.

Single Carrot may have thrown away the script, but a brief read-through of "The Day Boy and the Night Girl", the Victorian-era fairy tale by George MacDonald that Illuminoctem is based on, will help a lot. The strange bird-woman you see at the opening is Watho, a witch with a wildly active imagination. She has hidden two women in different parts of her castle, and, somehow managed to get both of them to bear children. One child, Photogen (Nathan Fulton) is born in a world without darkness. He lives entirely during the day, banging drums and hunting wild animals. The other, the female Nycteris (Alexandra Lewis) is a night owl, whose only exposure to light is from a single hanging lamp in her room.

It's an elaborate story, which presages J.R.R. Tolkein and later sci-fi/fantasy. The basic light/dark dichotomy is what powers it, and drives the attraction between the two central characters. Nycteris escapes from the darkness and meets up with Photogen. Their creator, Watho, soon finds that they have slipped out of her control. She doesn't like that one bit.

Keep in mind, though, that the play isn't a strictly faithful recapitulation of the fairy tale.

The evening is divided into four roughly chronological sections. "Watho's Great Experiment," with choreography by local dancer Marilyn Mullen, introduces us to the witch as she plots the creation of the night-girl and the day-boy. "Out of Darkness" follows Nycteris's journey into the light and features choreography by Towson University Theatre Arts Assistant Professor Naoko Maeshiba. "Refuge," by local dancer Sarah Anne Austin, introduces the two lovers to one another. And "Vexed," which contains choreography by Kwame Opare (a part-time faculty member at TU, who performed in the off-Broadway show Stomp), engineers the confrontation between Watho and her charges.

The result is more of a showcase than a tightly packaged piece. And there's a lot of talent here on display. Lewis offers a fascinating portrayal of the young, bewildered Nycteris as she pursues light, in the form of a lamp, fireflies, and the moon. (Single Carrot's program is blessedly free of extended resumes, but here I could use one. Lewis is an excellent actress, and hopefully we'll see more of her.) Her opposite and primary attraction Photogen is given an athletic performance by Fulton, a Single Carrot Fellow. Jabaily's portrayal of Watho hits the right mix of the bizarre and evil. And the four other ensemble members-Aldo Pantoja, Jessica Garrett, Cooper, and Genevieve de Mahy-keep the story flowing with tightly paced movement.

Case-a music director from Chicago's Second City-offers a haunting, percussive score that easily jumps genres, from rock to electro-pop to African. We are reminded that this is relatively new territory for most of the actors-this is Single Carrot, not the Paul Taylor Dance Company-but for the most part, the company works within its limitations. At its best-in the "Out of Darkness," episode, for instance—the theater and movement blend into a fluid and easily followed story of desire. Hopefully, productions like this will pave the way for future collaborations between Baltimore's fragmented but talented community of performance artists, actors, and choreographers.

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