“Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands” is playing in an interesting venue; the abandoned car dealership on Washington near National. To say that it’s a unique piece of theater is a vast understatement.
This show is not your typical static audience/on-stage performance. The audience literally travels through time and space with the characters, going with them from scene to scene, either on a moving tram or walking then sitting on provided chairs. You become part of their lives and you see that their lives are part of your experiences.
Our two lead protagonists, Tom and Sue, played by Jason Adams and Jamey Hood, have lost their identity cards, and therefore, their identities. By visiting the Social Services Office, they hope to get new cards, but find what they need to do first is explore their identities by visiting a few imaginary lands; and so, the title of the work.
Technically an opera, as most of the words are sung, these slightly more than two hours of theater are so rich, so dense and so pleasantly provocative, it’s not to be missed. The cast is heroic. Beautiful voices, singing music that runs the spectrum from simple melody to woven harmony and percussive abstraction. Amazing music, fresh and deep. Dance is used as an almost constant undercurrent, with choreography that comments on both communication and identity. The text was devastatingly good, from the bleak chill of “The University of Alaska” to the erotic celebration of ‘Wedding Ceremony.” The section entitled “Sand” was so moving I cried, as a series of small shoes were excavated from a pile of sand, illustrating a tale of how sand castles are needed, but oppression can bury even the memory of how to build them. “The Pledge of Adhesion” had me laughing out loud, as the citizens of limbo swear to have only shallow thoughts, and keep their words superficial, forgoing any insights from courage, love, beauty or joy, in order to keep their focus on talk radio.
Every scene, every song, every dance made me feel and think about things that everyday life does not often bring out. It reminded me that this is one of the sacred aspects of theater, to gives us this reflection of the world that we don’t see when we are so caught in the daily details.
One complaint I heard was that you couldn’t understand all the lyrics and weren’t sure of how each scene fit. Another theatergoer commented that she was a longtime opera buff, who didn’t understand Italian or German, “So? The lyricism of the music and voices carries you. Do waves or waterfalls speak to you literally? No, but they do speak to you emotionally.”
You’re already on the internet, so click on overtoneindustries.org and get your train ticket. You don’t have to be in search of your identity, but maybe you would like to check out a new one. You can be a patron of avant garde theater, an opera lover, or just someone who enjoys watching beautiful bodies in black garter belts and aluminum breastplates running through an abandoned car dealership while singing about life, war and love.
The dozens of names on the program all deserve credit for the many aspects of the show, but major applause to O-Lan Jones and David O. for creating, and all their artists for working. Overtone Industries is just the kind of development I’d like to see more of in Culver City.
Through July 25.