A woman – Alora — walks into a heath clinic. She’s been been diagnosed with cancer, and she has only nine months to live. She asks her doctor for a second opinion. Well, her doctor tells her, “a lot can happen in nine months.”
It sounds like a punch line, but playwright Andrew Irons wants to turn it into an epiphany. Linus and Alora – now playing at Baltimore’s Single Carrot and directed by Genevieve De Mahy – finds its zone somewhere between tragedy and slapstick. Out of Alora’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, he creates a 90 minute multimedia endgame/extravaganza. Into the fun house goes a mix of Love Story on acid, and a dash of the Three Stooges.
It comes on slowly. First, a whistful and frightened Alora (Susannah Edwards) walks home in a daze, surrounded by visions of doctors choreographed into bizarre symmetry. Then, suddenly, she turns the message on its head. She gets home to tell her newlywed husband Linus (Nathan Cooper) that she has nine months left – before giving birth.
Take comfort, all you who get nervous at theater that sounds edgy. Irons is pretty straightforward, even earnest, about his message. He wants us to know that when the clock starts ticking – or when we hear that it does – our imaginations are there to remind us that the end is only the beginning. So we, the audience, sit in the shoes of Linus, the loving but prosaic husband as we are gradually sucked into a realm where anything can happen.
And so the smorgasbord begins. A countdown to death becomes a celebration of life — and the stage is an explosive and messy display of the imagination as the incubus of life. Videos, childhood scenes, two flamenco dancers, a three person band of musicians, astral images, animation all serve to stimulate the somewhat flatlined imagination of Linus in the face of tragedy. He starts to see what she sees: the child they would never have, the trio of imaginary brothers she created, the dreams that they’d never shared until now.
Like all good playgrounds, this play offers a lot of opportunities to shine. Director De Mahy ably juggles set design and choreography (along with David Kellam). As Noodle, the talented Jessica Garrett manages an amazing regression from a doctor to tricycle driving (and ham-sandwich wielding) toddler. As Linus, Nathan Cooper – memorable for some wild-eyed roles in past Single Carrot productions — shows he can take on the straight man. (Which is good, because he’s apparently Single Carrot’s new artistic director.) Danseuse Melissa Wimbish gives a memorable (and wordless) performance as a flamenco dancing Brazilian diva. The trio of musicians (Madeline de Mahy, Paul Diem, and Jeremy Durkin) more than carry their weight, and even create their own original score. (As Alora, it’s worth noting, Susannah Edwards has an opportunity to show off her own violin-playing skills).
Playwright Andrew Irons sees a lot of possibilities for modern media. He must: when we’re not watching amazing animation (Jane Westrick), the performances are simulcast on both walls…which has the odd effect of combining the intimacy of a shoebox sized theater with the visual effects of a football stadium. That transforms the stage itself into more of a buffet table than a place for relationships or even ideas to develop. Linus & Alora, explodes the spacial dimensions of theatre. And Single Carrot Theatre leaves us looking forward to next season.
But in the end of this exhilarating, occasionally hallucinatory exercise, stuffed with eye candy and sparkling moments, there’s a sense – again back to the buffet metaphor – that despite having hung around the table and forked a lot of stuffed olives, that something has been left out. Yes, a lot happens in ninety minutes – including some spectacular stargazing shots (Justin Salvia). But be warned: you may leave with a crick in your neck. In the end, Irons has directed us toward the Milky Way of his fervent imagination for creative energy, while the center of the stage remains – literally – a sandbox full of stuffed animals.
I couldn’t help watching this without thinking of Forum Theatre’s production of Charles Mee’s bobrauschenbergamerica at the Roundhouse, which I saw a week ago in Silver Spring. Forum is a young ensemble which came to DC in 2003 with the intention of “producing adventurous, relevant, and challenging plays that inspire discussion.” And the Single Carrot arrived in Baltimore armed with graduate degrees from University of Colorado and a name inspired by Paul Cezanne’s quote that “A day is coming when, freshly observed, a Single Carrot will set off a revolution.”
Single Carrot is, of course, only half the age of the Forum, and Linus & Alora concludes a fourth season that has been amazing growth spurt. Next year they will be producing their own Charles Mee play, Cassiopeia.
Linus and Alora plays through July 10th at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Avenue, in Baltimore MD. For tickets, call (443) 844-9253, or purchase them online.
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission.