Friday, June 13, 2008


TO THE Iio.jpgMAGINISTS LAST NIGHT, there to see a production called Travel, conceived and produced by its entire cast. To the point, since I leave Wednesday for my Long Walk.

The Imaginists is/are an amazing group. I've written about them before here: among other things, we've seen them do a truly memorable Antigone, an intense, resourceful Crucible, a fascinating production of Pirandello's Tonight we Improvise, and, earlier this year, a magnificent Winter's Tale.

In between repertory like this, The Imaginists produce work conceived and developed collectively by the actors. Last night's Travel was in this line, and was particularly to the point, since the company itself is traveling -- leaving the loft workshop they've used for the last six years for a better, bigger, more flexible space a few miles south, in Santa Rosa. (Information about the new space here.) And while recent productions have been away from the loft, in parks or wineries or Healdsburg's own Raven Theater, Travel was produced in the loft itself, the audience on three sides.

The piece is choreographed theater, rarely verbal. I suppose it's somewhere between charades and tableau vivante. I think of it as living sculpture. These actors use their entire bodies sculpturally, expressing in gesture, movement, and even in static position a rich, complex, deeply human something -- something that I hesitate even to name or describe. You get an idea of this in the photo above: a representation of Io, seduced by Zeus and then given the form of a heifer. This Io is costumed, of course; costumes were not a part of Travel. But the kind of chthonic and ancient awareness Io represents, a knowledge-of-something-profoundly-human-but-certainly-not-verbally-expressible, was quite present in Travel, as it had been in Antigone several years ago, and was revealed to be in Arthur Miller's masterpiece The Crucible.

Have I mentioned that the cast is composed of school children? (As we used to call them: "children" comes increasingly resistingly to the vocabulary these days.) The Imaginists, directed by Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto, have as their chief goal the development of strong and imaginative community theater; and they know the best way to build a theatrical future is to engage young people in the project. All the productions I've mentioned, including this Travel, have been performed by actors not yet eighteen. (Well, one turned eighteen last night.)

And they've absorbed their demanding repertory and developed the means to reproduce its revelations in their own collectively developed work. On one level, I suppose you could say Travel is no more than a series of skits, each the concept of one or another of the actors, all on the central theme of travel, strung together like the coaches of a passenger train, or the benches of a bus, whose occupants momentarily seem to have a common destination. (And that destination becomes all too apparent toward the end, when even members of the audience are involved in it.)

But "skit" suggests mere entertainment, and this work goes beyond that. There's something almost unnervingly profound about nearly everything these Imaginists do. The work is often abstract, but always meaningful, however elusive. Travel continues in the Healdsburg workshop tonight and tomorrow (June 13 and 14). The next production, Amos Tutuola's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, opens later this month: I'm sorry my own travels will prevent my seeing it.

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