Extropia: King King, 6/27/10

29 06 2010

I returned from NYC a week ago, had a host of commitments during the week, and only made it to the last day of the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival – but in this one day, my excitement about the LA theater scene was revived.  I took in a great LA Theater Critics panel assessing the current state of Los Angeles theater, Teresa Willis’ one-woman show Eenie Meanie, and the imaginative new “musical” Extropia.

From the moment I entered King King on Hollywood Blvd., I was transported to a different world: Extropia was not going to be a typical night of “musical theater.”  A dark bar with exposed brick walls and Buddhist decor, King King was divided among reserved cabaret tables closest to the stage, long communal tables in the center, and rich red booths towards the back.  (I later learned that Broadway’s Rock of Ages – famous for its 80s rock concert vibe and bar service during the show – originated at this cool little club.  In such a unique space, I have to admit: Rock of Ages would have been ridiculously fun.) After ordering a drink, my friend Emily and I plopped down at a center table and chatted, taking in our unexpected surroundings – the small band and sound effects crew, the futuristic video projections on a screen upstage left, the excited young crowd pressing in to see the show.

The hyperproductive citizens of Extropia manufacture clothing for the rest of the world. Their lives are mechanical, but sufficient.  They live in a world without music. But one day, Foster (of the shoe division) starts hearing everyday noises – brushing his teeth, the machines at work, his wife chopping vegetables for dinner – overlay in fascinating, inexplicable combinations. These new rhythms distract him from his labor but make him feel … happy.

A collaboration between Seattle’s Collaborator theater and graduates of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, Extropia may not have the most exciting or complex narrative; its conclusion is rather abrupt and leaves lingering questions (ripe for the show’s further development, I hope).  But Extropia‘s explorations in the production and effects of sound are positively captivating. How do humans experience sound?  At what point does “noise” become “music”?  How does sound impact our bodies to produce distinctive movements? At what point does “movement” become “dance”?

Using hyperstylized mimicry / choreography rather than tangible props, Extropia creates a dynamic aural and visual soundscape through a combination of prerecorded and live sound effects, produced by a small band of foley artists to the side of stage. There is often a fascinating disjuncture between how a sound is produced and the meaning it assumes onstage – probing how one experiences and understands objects and other human beings through sound.  While featuring particularly outstanding performances by leads Sam Littlefield as Foster and Alexandra Fulton as Arial, Extropia is truly an ensemble effort, equally dependent on the actors and the visible and invisible crew: Kelleia Sheerin’s crisp direction, Mark Sparling and Miho Kajiwara’s innovative sound compositions, Squared Design’s appropriately simple set, Ryan Heffington’s futuristic costume designs, and Cameron Duncan’s (sometimes blinding, but otherwise quite vibrant) lighting design.

Ironically for a show about sound, the actors’ mics are a bit muffled. But the soundscapes and their embodiments are the play’s focus, not necessarily the dialogue – and these compositions fascinate.  As Foster (Littlefield) attempts to explain his new perception of rhythm and music to his fellow Extropians, his excitement is palpable and extends into the audience.  His pelvis pulses to the beat, his head bobs uncontrollably, he conducts a symphony of everyday sounds. With a smile on my face, invigorated by a unique theatrical experience shared with such a young and passionate audience, I left the theater just a little more perceptive of the vibrance of sounds surrounding me.

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16 12 2010
A Year in Theater: 2010 « Sarah Taylor Ellis

[…] (King King) – Review Another one of those fascinating, site-specific theatrical experiences: less a “musical” and […]

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