Absurdist Delight @ Facility Theatre

3 of 4 stars

Acclaimed Chicago actor and director Dado has been creating theatre works of compelling push-the-mainstream-out-of-its-comfort-zone for years.  Onstage as a regular at Red Orchid and European Rep and on sundry stages throughout our town, she brought to life many a rich complicated not so pretty character that looked like the folks you pass by every day.  As an award winning director, she has championed a vision of gritty off kilter truth that is not always realistic. She creates dysfunctional communities on stage that seem to work out somehow.  Her moniker is, after all, the word for a specific carpentry joint, a carefully crafted unifier of parts that renders the entire structure sound.  Since completing a visual arts degree at U of C’s DOVA a few years back, she has jumped off an exhilarating artistic cliff and is now creating startlingly beautiful site specific theatrical experiences that defy easy classification. Part performance art, part experimental music performance, 100% theatrical, she is compiling a body of work that puts the audience into a multisensory alternative universe that is not particularly comfortable, one that often hovers over an undefined but terrifying abyss, but hopes for grace anyway.  This month she is adding to her oeuvre by looking back: way back to 1913, before Dada and the birth of the Theatre of the Absurd. She has staged, with the willing and talented enablers at Facility Theatre whose mission is to reimagine rarely seen works and original plays, Erik Satie’s bizarre salon piece The Ruse of Medusa. Drawn from a time before world wars, when artists gathered in fancy parlors to challenge the status quo and cross pollinate, this playlet is the tiny tale of the confused and confusing Baron Medusa(David Cerda crossing Camp with Comedia), his daughter Frisette(played delicately by piano player Taylor Galloway), Frisette’s lusty suitor Adolpho(Laurie Roberts) and the baron’s long suffering valet Polycarpe(violinist and singer Jenni M. Hadley).  There is also the  mechanical monkey Jonas( adorably and disturbingly played by Brian Shaw).  This ensemble, ably supported by music director Sam Clapp and his impossibly talented monkey mask wearing band, goes all in to bravely and skillfully recreate and make relevant a work that was famously  performed in 1948 at Black Mountain College with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and  Bucky Fuller rounding out the cast with soon to be iconic photographer Arthur Penn directing.

Satie wrote little dances and then odd bits of dialogue hung like baubles from a spindly tree of almost narrative.  The scale of the work is definitely living room and the Chopin Theatre’s baroque basement of overwrought mismatched ornateness is the perfect place to experience this perplexing and magical work. It is hard to tell where Samantha Rausch’s gorgeously detailed set leaves off and the room at Chopin begins. But settle into an overstuffed gilded chair with a glass of wine from the bar and watch the non-plot unfold. At one point the audience will be ushered into the work, becoming a parade to another space downstairs which is transformed into a dream place gazebo where ultimately we will end in a disco dance party where–SPOILER ALERT- there will be some music that while perfect for the moment, was not written by Satie. But maybe should have been.  I came to see this because I was interested in the history of the piece, but I came to love it because it is an innately humane statement about living in the world with other people. This is the kind of performance art piece you go along with for the ride, not concerned too terribly with what it all means, because after all, what does any human interaction MEAN?  There is much for the eye, more for the ear, and the work layers yearning, disappointment, confusion, loyalty, lust and just strangeness into a pastiche of satisfying time passing.  You have to just embrace the juxtapositions and not make too much of the arbitrariness.

Facility Theatre’s landmark remounting of the M.C. Richards English translation of The Ruse of Medusa is playing weekends until April 7, 2019 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division.  For tickets and information go to www.facilitytheatre.org.