Stage Innovation 

World premiere at BCT is a puzzlement

A fascinating theatrical experience is under way in Boise, marked by intense performances, unusual choreography and multimedia accents.

The Physics of Regret is the first world premiere of an original play to be presented at Boise Contemporary Theater (playing through February 25). For the past two and a half years, playwright/director Michael Rohd has been coming to Boise and working with the BCT cast, improvising and exploring what stories to tell and how to tell them.

In the program, Rohd says, "The show is more a collage than a single plot-driven narrative--in fact, it's a living puzzle." There are sounds, lights and movements that seem to make no sense--although some are explained as the show progresses. Actors carry chairs about, sit, stand, climb on them; they push stairs out and climb them; they slide panels back and forth like a magician's assistant's, with characters appearing and disappearing behind them.

Although the play is puzzling, it's never dull. The scenes, characters and time periods change rapidly from one to another, to a confusing kaleidoscope effect. Projections of country scenes float across the back wall, along with staring eyes; sound effects of a ticking clock and rushing water accompany different characters. One character, a deceased father played by Matthew Cameron Clark, only appears in a video projection as a disembodied head, talking to his troubled son.

The seven actors give riveting performances as they delve into wildly varying story lines that range from Andy Lawless as Joseph Plateau, a dedicated Belgian scientist who began motion picture experimentation and went blind after staring too long at the sun, to Dwayne Blackaller a fierce and disturbed young man who fears that he will follow in his father's footsteps. Blackaller dramatically illustrates how his perception of his father's nature changes from his memories of a caring parent to a loathsome creature. Clark manages to be hypnotically soothing, puzzling and sometimes frightening.

One underdeveloped storyline was the strange case of a receptionist "greeter" at a refugee center who tried to immolate herself, played with interesting restraint by Tracy Sunderland. In spite of her obviously enormous sympathy for the tragedies these refugees have suffered, Sunderland manages to include some welcome humor with her character's sarcasm.

The most disappointing directorial decision in this production was to have lively actress Sara M. Bruner portray the famous actress Eva LeGallienne with her back to the audience the entire time. She encapsulates LeGallienne's long life, musing about her successes, decisions and regrets, all while facing her dressing table. LeGallienne was considered one of the greatest actresses of the early 20th century, and, I'm willing to bet, rarely turned her full back on an audience.

Still, it's all rather fun to follow where the playwright and cast are going. The play certainly keeps you awake and thinking. Perhaps the regret of some of the audience will be that they paid almost $30 for the opportunity.

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