Rebecca reviews 'Somnium,' 'Here I Lie,' and 'East of the Sun, West of the Moon' 

My first evening of Fringe began at School of the Arts, where RAPA presented Dramatic Space's debut production, "Somnium." The zany adventure story started with the premise that a small group of scientists had observed that there was more to CERN's discovery of the Higgs Boson "God Particle" than previously thought.

When strange phenomena results from people falling asleep in proximity to the Hadron Collider, Captain Lockspeare organizes her crew of slumbernauts aboard the Somnium to pursue the roots of dreams in the human mind.

Blending psychology and particle physics, the players take turns acting out three sets of increasingly disturbing dreams as they get physically closer to the source. The crew members were dressed in adult onesie sleepwear adorned with scientist or military regalia, and I almost immediately began to think of the whole thing as a witty Little Nemo meets Captain Nemo scenario.

The actors deftly kept each scene moving through a clever use of minimal props -- wooden sticks, frames, and a wheel -- and vocal punctuations to the supporting soundtrack, performed by a man manipulating a simple stringed instrument with a bow and other gizmos, with a box at the base for some neat acoustic enhancement.

"Somnium" will be performed again Sunday, September 18, at RAPA @ SOTA: Ensemble Theatre. 4:30 p.m. $10 ($8 for seniors, students, and kids). All ages.

click to enlarge Dramatic Space performed "Somnium," its debut production, at Writers & Books as part of the 2016 Rochester Fringe Festival. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Dramatic Space performed "Somnium," its debut production, at Writers & Books as part of the 2016 Rochester Fringe Festival.

"Here I Lie," which was my next stop, over at Writers & Books, was a considerably heavier production. At just over half an hour in duration, the micro-show nevertheless was a sock in the gut. Produced and performed entirely by University of Rochester students, the piece reimagines Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni's last few hours on earth.

The show opens with actor Michele Currenti sitting cross-legged on the ground, swathed in a sheet-shroud, and despondent. She's surrounded by clothes, lanterns, papers, and pill bottles. Throughout the work, she rises and paces, interacting with these objects or with the screen upon which images dance (courtesy of A/V designer Molly Nemer).

Currenti's chillingly operatic voice powerfully laments lost love in Spanish, alternating with a recording of poetry read in English by Andria Rabenold. She is angry and sorrowful and speaks of abandonment -- research for backstory explains that her lover has committed suicide -- and her grief progresses toward her own resolve to end her life as well.

Even before I learned more about Storni's life, the morbid tones in "Here I Lie" had me thinking of Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath. The strange little show, with its mash-ups of live singing, recorded poetry, and haunting visuals, was first performed at this year's ArtAwake, when it was directed by Alberto Carrillo, who has since graduated from UR and returned to Madrid.

"Here I Lie" will be performed again Saturday, September 24, at Writers & Books. 6 p.m. $5. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.

I can't express how deeply thrilled I was to see the Norwegian tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" told at Writers & Books tonight -- not only because it has been my favorite story since childhood, but doubly so because judging by last year's Fringe performance by Didrik Soderstrom (of the Brooklyn-based Hnossa Project), I knew it would be infused with magical life.

It's really something to behold Soderstrom recreate live what he has evidently so lovingly planned out. Again this year, he spun this borrowed yarn using only a mic, an amp, and a looper pedal, immersing the bewitched audience in spoken words, song, and vocal layering. And punctuating bits of storytelling are his soaring songs, often sung in-the-round.

The tale begins in what should be early spring, but a lingering winter that "drowned the world in elegance," has romanced the heroine Gudrun even as the snow threatens her farming family's survival. Soderstrom's brand of storytelling conveys every nuance of the settings and situations not just with his voice, but also with the drafts of wind gusting in his cheeks, melting brooks gurgling in his throat, hesitant birdsong tripping off his lips, and pure suspense conveyed with the patter of fingertips along his forearm.

Dependent upon the fickle elements, Gudrun's family is in real danger when a blizzard delays planting. Her father receives a disturbing proposition from an unlikely source -- in exchange for security and comfort, a monstrous bear requests her hand in marriage.

Haunted by something familiar in his eyes, Gudrun acquiesces and sets off with her civil and secretive husband, but before long, her curiosity gets the best of her. A highlight of the show is the rolling chatter of Gudrun's curiosity and longing, conveyed in a fever swarm of layered vocals immediately before her naive betrayal. Having discovered her beast's curse, she must undergo trial upon trial to test and trust the miraculous strength of unanticipated love.

"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" will be performed again Saturday, September 17, 10 p.m., and Sunday, September 18, 5 p.m. $11. Appropriate for ages 5 and older.

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