Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Heather Barfield Cole, Fri., May 21, 2004
OrangeBlue Theater, through June 5 Running time: 3 hrs
There is a fire burning hot orange: It is the light of industrial pollution reflecting off the night clouds, the groves in California where production of crops is orchestrated with machinelike precision, the wavy lines in dead trees, and the collapse of civilization burning to the ground so that a new world can emerge, a world without greed, jealousy, corruption, and competition, perhaps a world without capitalism, or for that matter, any sort of economic matrix based on the exchange of currency. Refraction Arts Project has been working on Orange for two years, and the full production here is a true accomplishment. Composed of interlaced stories, seemingly irrelevant, then more tightly focused, this tale is about the destruction of humanity.
A housing development hastily built into a cliff's side will inevitably slide down to the ground below. A historical building a library is threatened by a proposed shopping mall. A commune of socialists in early 20th-century America wants to create a utopia in the desert. A Satan-worshipping rocket genius urges the onslaught of apocalypse through demolition manufacturing and calling forth the "mother whore" of Babylon. These distinct stories, and several other concurrent themes, all funnel down into one pool: the loss of beauty and truth. In three acts, director Marc Parees impressively pulls together a robust cast with a complicated story. Ron Berry's labyrinthine script is layered and pertinent, almost epic. Although the first act is somewhat confusing with so many characters entering the space, the second and final acts define these characters and their motives clearly enough to support the play's chilling and intense close.
Overall, Orange is noticeably well thought-through by the artistic team. The set, designed by Charlie Calvert, is a construction site with scaffolds as levels, studs lining the backdrop, and plywood walls climbing upward, blocking out the luminosity of the blue and white sky. The lighting is varied and vivid, with designer Elizabeth Gaines using fluorescents, hot reds, a single hanging bulb, underground gutter lines, and sepia tones. Sound designer K. Eliot Haynes enlivens the ambience with scratchy recordings of symphonies, jazz, or the chaotic static of panic. Images of tenement buildings projected onto the floor allude to the devastating fire of 1871 that wiped out most of Chicago. All together, the technical stagecraft is professionally done, allowing the stunning work of the actors to shine. Joel Citty is dynamic as rocket man and occultist Jack Parsons; Cyndi Williams is captivating as his ordinary-woman-turned-goddess, with other fine performances by Judson Jones, Matt Hislope, Douglas Taylor, and Lana Dieterich. Much of the cast is splendid to watch, deserving accolades.
The end is near, that's the mantra, but the fundamental question may be, "What is ending?" Orange warns us, with its round glow, to look beyond the cozy comfort of theatre and see the reality of a dying city, any city. We are preparing for a crash, perhaps due to lack of water or oil, and we'd better be ready. This show is explosive, penetrating the soft vulnerabilities of people living in modern, technologically dependent times. Bang the drum, it's time to rise.