By John Quinn, EncoreMichigan.com
There are odd or unusual plays in every theatrical season, some because of their scripts, and some because of their staging. Matrix Theatre Company doubles the oddity by presenting "Raven's Seed," Stephen Most's 1984 quirky, cautionary fable of technology run amok.
Director Shaun Nethercott could have let us sit quietly and have the play served up for us on a silver platter – business as usual – but, no! Her audiences are gadding about Matrix's Mexicantown neighborhood, following the actors. The out-of-theater experience includes the lot at Detroit Farm and Garden and the plaza of the Bagley Street Pedestrian Bridge, the weak bandage on that battle wound from technology run amok, I-75. The experience is utterly unique.
"Raven's Seed" portrays a clash of two cultures and employs two differing theatrical styles. Our play opens in the tree-rimmed lot beside Matrix, where we are introduced to totemic animals from Native American myth. These strikingly masked and costumed creatures are Sturgeon, Bear, Coyote and Raven. Illness has entered the forest primeval, and Sturgeon rightly affirms the source as Man's science facility upstream. To emulate his progenitor, who in a Prometheus-like myth stole the sun back from selfish Man, Raven vows to transform himself and steal the power from the humans, thus again saving the world.
Hard at work in a lab up the river, the bumbling Drs. J. Stanley Opportune (Dan Jaroslaw) and Dr. Oliver Liverwurst (Dan Woitulewicz) are finishing up the coincidentally-named Prometheus Project, a means of replenishing the fuel supply of the world's nuclear reactors. They are oblivious to the damage done down-stream until Opportune's daughter, Nova (Erin Hildebrandt), brings word of lethal radiation levels. Stan and Ollie don't care; "Nobody lives there."
Raven, disguised as "Ray," manages to steal the first pellet of plutonium. But unlike his mythical forefather, succumbs to radiation poisoning. This sets up an absurdist game of "pellet, pellet, who's got the pellet?" and reveals Dr. Opportune's mad schemes for his own daughter.
The stylistic variations in "Raven's Seed" are jarring, but not offensively so. They demonstrate a vision held by both playwright and director. The burlesque-inspired scientists are callously exploring while ignoring consequences; the "nature" scenes are reminiscent of Native ritual. Yet, between the acting style and the off-stage sound effects, one will also notice a strong current of technique inspired by Polish director Jerzy Grotowski's "poor theatre" concepts. The four actors portraying animals, Rodolfo (Rudy) Villarreal (Raven), Krista Schafer (Bear, and later Loon), Maurizio Rosas-Dominguez (Coyote) and Matios Simonian (Sturgeon) ably rely on strong body language and gestures, backed up by some powerful voices, to convey character.
While strolling around the neighborhood is a pleasant alternative to sitting in a darkened theater, it breaks the continuity of the narrative. The one-act "Raven's Seed" runs about an hour and forty-five minutes, and a lot of that time is spent getting a scene up to speed. Still and all, this ambitious project affirms Matrix Theatre's reputation for exploring the potentials just around the corner.
For tickets and showtimes, visit EncoreMichigan.com.
John Quinn reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state's most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan's professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.
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