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Theatre in Review: Deepest Man (3LD Art & Technology Center)

Spencer Barros. Photo by: Uliano Chiquetto

Deepest Man is a dream play that unfolds in the last few moments of its protagonist's life. Dr. Hazzardville Sommers has been institutionalized following his wife's death, apparently by drowning. Brought into his room by a trio of nurses, he appears to be almost catatonic. Consumed with guilt -- he is convinced he should have saved his wife, even though he wasn't with her when it happened -- he decides to follow her by putting his head in the sink.

What follows is an extended end-of-life hallucination that blends images of water, references to freestyle diving, something called "divine channel surfing," a Hurricane Katrina-like tempest, and testimonials by a trio of guilt-plagued storm survivors, all of it overseen and/or narrated by a talk show host named Des'Ree Collins. These are Hazzardville's personal memories combined with bits of various broadcasts from the hospital's television, twisted and reformed into unexpected shapes, in the way that our dreams tend to do, making a kind of meditation on memory, love, guilt, spirituality, and water in its many forms. The latter property assumes many guises: On the one hand, we are told repeatedly that each of us is 90% water; on the other, we see whole landscapes wiped out by storm surges.

Obviously, conventional standards of dramaturgy do not apply here. James Scruggs' script is not a model of clarity; I saw it from the beginning, yet felt like I entered in the middle of it. Narrative is replaced by a free-flowing poetry, demanding that we decode images and ideas as they flow from Dr. Sommers' dying brain. The script begins with a contemplation of freediving, a form of underwater diving that involves holding one's breath without scuba gear; it is presented here as a spiritual endeavor, a way of listening to the universe and facing down one's demons. Or, as the script has it, "All water is connected. All water is ocean. It is a diverse, dynamic domain with incredible properties. It has been proven. Water can heal. Water has memory. Water has consciousness."

The central dramatic event of Deepest Man features Hazzardville, taking on the role of Des'Ree Collins and interviewing those three storm survivors, all of whom witnessed the catastrophic deaths of loved ones. Rhonda was unable to save the sister who was also her rival in romance and dysfunctional family relations. Marta, an artist who specializes in making crucifixes, lost her abusive boyfriend; she floated to safety on one of her creations. Cedric lost the parents who loved and suffocated him, and to whom he was bound as a caregiver; his account of watching them slip off the roof of their rain-battered home provides one of the evening's most gripping moments. But all of these stories are powerful because Scruggs refuses to sentimentalize Rhonda, Marta, or Cedric, or those they lost.

Deepest Man exploits the possibilities of Musion Eyeliner, the updated Pepper's Ghost system that turns up in so many 3LD productions, and it must be said that Grant McDonald's video design provides what may be the most beautiful cascade of images I've seen at this theatre. The side walls of the house are filled with rising waters. A terrifying storm, augmented by Ayumu "Poe" Saegusa's lighting and the fluent sound design by JoEllen Dolan and Kevin DeYoe, unfolds on the entire upstage area of David Ogle's expansive setting, which suggests an empty, abandoned hospital from another era. Eyeliner is used to create eerie images of bodies and an empty dress floating in water; in the play's climactic moments, Hazzardville stands behind, and seemingly merges with, an image of himself with his head buried in the sink.

Deepest Man is a brief work, running just an hour, and, under Mark Rayment's direction, the words and visuals come at you so rapidly that there's little to do but let them wash over you; still, it's likely that you will find the final moments, topped by a previously unseen scenic tableau, more powerful than you might expect. Rayment has also found a cast that is willing and able to get on the author's wavelength. Spencer Barros works hard and well as Hazzardville, and Alva Chinn is most amusing as Des'Ree, a TV personality trafficking in uplift à la Oprah Winfrey. Vienna Carroll (Rhonda), Miguel Reis (Cedric), and Libby Skala (Marta) all deliver solid performances.

Deepest Man was apparently written with Eyeliner in mind. In the past, the tendency of artists at 3LD to put technology before words or narrative has sometimes resulted in works that made a big visual impression but fled one's memory almost instantly afterwards. Here, the technology fits the script in a much more organic fashion. If Deepest Man depends on technology, it isn't just a display of digital expertise; that's a good sign for this adventurous company.--David Barbour

(29 May 2014)

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