“Mysticism & Music,” a newly devised Constellation Theatre piece running both in person at the Source Theatre and in streaming production, is not a play. It has no through-line of narrative, and it is not until its conclusion that the theme coalesces into a cohesive whole.
It is a vibrant, affecting, and at times challenging work of motion and music…
It is a vibrant, affecting, and at times challenging work of motion and music—a performative awakening after a year and a half of forced theatrical hibernation. While the motivation for “Mysticism & Music” is very much of this late-pandemic moment, it is comprised of universal truths and texts that illuminate this trying moment in time.
The shadow of COVID is directly addressed at the start, with performers reading from audience members’ contributions of things they have lost since March 2020. Some are light (time at a favorite night spot), and some are dark (a family member who succumbed to the virus). From there, the cast moves through a series of vignettes and dance pieces that reflect on the fragility of human life and emotion.
The text of “Mysticism & Music” consists of excerpts from three dozen holy books, novels, poems, and speeches. It is a widely cast net encompassing works as varied as the Hindu “Rig Veda,” the Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas,” and a Terry Pratchett “Discworld” novel. At times, it can be hard to keep up with the sheer flow of profundity being served up, and occasionally, a textual selection seems confusing or out of place.
But when the selections mesh with the music and movement, “Mysticism & Music” is an epiphany on stage. Rhythmic odes to water and fire—both displayed as both potential killers and as primal baptismal sources—shake the stage with deep spiritual fervor. Quieter segments invoke a different, but equally powerful, sense of numinous experience.
The performers—John Austin, Natalie Cutcher, Momo Nakamura, Jacob Yeh, Deidre Staples, and Nia Savoy-Dock, all but Staples veterans of past Constellation productions—work in unison as a single organism, with a sublime flow of energy and movement between them.
In an onstage musical pit is Constellation maestro Tom Teasley, a two-time Helen Hayes Award-winner for his sound design with the company, and Chao Tian of the Chinese Music Society of Greater Washington. The two collaborated on Constellation’s Hayes Award-nominated “The White Snake” in 2019 and perform together as the musical duo, Dong Xi. As is always the case with a Teasley production, the compositions are as much a star of the show as any of the actors. The music runs a range from lilting to haunting to dissonant, with sharp impact. (Those who are sensitive to high-pitched sounds may find one segment uncomfortable.)
Director Allison Arkell Stockman has often staged works with religious themes at Constellation—2011’s “The Ramayana” and 2016’s “Journey to the West” among them. “Mysticism & Music” follows in that tradition, an experimental work of both exuberance and sorrow that packs emotional heights and depths into its brief running time.
Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes with no intermission.
“Mysticism & Music” runs through November 7, 2021 in person at the Source Theatre, 1835 14th Street NW in Washington, and by video-on-demand November 2 through December 31. Click here for tickets and information. NOTE: All patrons must wear masks and show proof of vaccination in order to attend a performance.