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A&E: Bible-based beauty at Butler:

October 15, 2007

A&E Bible-based beauty at Butler This week, two non-linear theatrical events.

Bookended by brilliance, the fourpart "Lamentations" (Oct. 3-7) offered another example of the importance of Butler University to Indy's artistic life.

Here's a trivialized rundown of how this production worked. First: "The Book of Lamentations," the wail of a conquered city and a people played out through ritualistic dance, music and sound. Second: A drummer and actress performed Sam Shepard's series of character monologues, "Tongues." Third: A pair of actresses in rectangular boxes suspended from the ceiling performed Samuel Beckett's "A Piece of Monologue" with minimal movement while a hunched actor, below, torturously took a 20-minute-or-so orbit around a lamp. Fourth: Two dancers in Plexiglass cages slowly moved while feathers drifted down from the ceiling, a boy soprano sang "Converte Nos" (composer Frank Felice's Latin setting for Lamentations 5:20) and the walls provided the text of the expulsion of the Garden of Eden.

A head-scratcher? Perhaps. But apart from the Shepard and Beckett pieces (whose dense texts shifted the work too far from the visceral to the intellectual), the result was deeply moving, whether you understood the intent or not. The ample talents of directors, choreographer, composer and designers came together to create a production as visually inventive-and with as much emotional impact-as anything I've seen in Indy. In such a collective work, it seems unfair to single out particular performers, but I can't resist praising frighteningly focused Michael Burke in the Beckett piece and the exquisite soprano of Simon Roberts in the finale.

The result: A work that no doubt hit everyone differently but, for those open to it, shook the soul.

Not as strong as rival Cirque du Soleil at its best, but more engaging than the variation that's played twice at Conseco Fieldhouse, "Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy" (part of the Indianapolis Broadway series at Clowes Hall) featured some truly startling feats of athleticism (the "giraffe" balancing act-with two men on a platform on a rocky pile of cylinders-being a highlight) and moments of visual beauty (much of it taking place high over the Clowes stage).

First timers may be stunned. But with cirque-ish circus shows no longer confined to Vegas (this one's creator, Cirque Productions, stages them in theme parks, too), the seen-that factor, even for amazing stunts, kicks in. The challenge for such companies: Not just finding a new milieu or new feats, but capturing audiences emotionally.
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