“Chemical Exile: Synthesis” is the final chapter and culmination of Rorschach Theatre’s second, season-long Psychogeography Project which began in October of 2021. “Chemical Exile” took participants to seven locations across the DC area with a monthly box in the mail that included “a new chapter in the story, each box containing hand-crafted objects–letters, drawings, souvenirs, photos, or even snacks–and a map to a location in their city.” This final, live event removes the traditional barrier between audience and performer to provide an experience best described as a theatrical journey, one that immerses all participants in a dynamic environment of light, sound, and sensation.
…immerses all participants in a dynamic environment of light, sound, and sensation…asks us to consider the forces…that have brought us to this particular time and place.
Scientists Teddy (Arika Thames) and Velouria (Jen Rabbit Ring) and research assistant Kallik (Erik Harrison) have slipped into an alternate dimension and desperately want to return to their original timelines. Teddy must get back to her research, Velouria her lover, and Kallik, his beloved dog, but following extensive trial and error, they still have not unlocked the secret to reclaiming their lives. The audience finds itself in a similar predicament, but all have been promised that after a tour of the R2 lab and an explanation of the research findings, they will return home.
The plan derails, however, when Teddy’s father, Everett (Baakari Wilder), who has been deeply wounded by his slip into another dimension, emerges from the audience to challenge the scientists with his religiously inspired world view, asking if we might already be right where we belong. And so, the battle rages on with Teddy arguing that science will eventually unlock all the mysteries, and Everett claiming that people’s lives have been determined by a divine plan for humanity.
Arika Thames embodies Teddy, the driven and uncompromising scientist, balanced by the presence of her enthusiastic but more approachable colleague, Velouria (Jen Rabbit Ring). Erik Harrison (Kallik) and Nathanael Hatchett (Teddy’s brother, Frankie) provide the lion’s share of comic relief; whereas Baakari Wilder and Elizabeth Roz Ward (Teddy’s parents) provide the play’s pathos as they express their feelings about losing loved ones to death, abandonment, and other dimensions.
Directed by Randy Baker and written by Jonelle Walker and Douglas Robinson, the play unfolds in a multi-floor installation (set design by Nadir Bey, Sarah Beth Hall, and Grace Trudeau) that moves the narrative forward with creativity, humor, and some impressively extensive lighting (lighting design by Dean Leong and James Morrison). The cast wears simple white lab coats (costume design by Paris Francesca) as they lead the audience through the extensive sets; hand out essential items such as protective glasses and temporary tattoos; and explain the scientific breakthroughs that will finally allow humanity to travel from one dimension to another.
Yes, the premise is dubious, but at its core, “Chemical Exile: Synthesis” asks us to consider the forces—those both scientifically provable and mysteriously unknowable—that have brought us to this particular time and place. Now it’s your turn and your time to explore the larger questions with a visit to the R2 Lab before it disappears from this dimension forever.
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Chemical Exile: Synthesis” runs through July 24, 2022, at The R2 Labs at Waterfront Center, 800 9th Street SW, Washington DC, 20024. You can still subscribe here and experience the previous seven chapters of the series online. For more information or to purchase in-person tickets, click here. Note: All audience members are required to prove vaccination status and wear a mask for the duration of the show.