Cult of the Liminal
Portland Mercury, April 17, 2003
By Justin Wescoat Sanders
If there is one play you see this year, make it a Liminal one. Indeed, there might be only one to see. Liminal has averaged barely one full production per year since its arrival on the scene in 1997. It is thus safe to tout its new production, Three Plays, Five Lives, opening April 17, as a Rare Event.
But it’s not just Liminal’s eccentric scarcity that makes it a must-see. Nor is it just that it consistently does either new and genuinely provocative theatrical works (see: Objects for the Emancipated Consumer, in which the stage was transformed into an interactive airport); or radically innovative reinventions of classic works (see: The Seven Deadly Sins, in which the epic Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill opera was pared down to an hour-long, leather-clad, electronic dance piece). Rather, what really makes Liminal the most intriguing theater company in town is its dogged commitment to subversion; its insistence on questioning the very nature of live theater itself.
Three Plays, Five Lives is an evening of three simple stories, each summarized easily in one line: A man designs an architectural masterpiece to bury his past; A matriarch’s family destroys her famous paintings to reap future wealth; A Western aid group struggles in a war-torn village to ease present suffering. It’s important to also mention these play are performed… simultaneously.
“We would encourage people to move around,” says director Bryan Markovitz, “because there are three really unique perspectives you can see this show from. At least.”
The relentless storytelling action will be accompanied by Liminal’s trademark relentless technical action, a synchronization of visual and sound effects, and physical movement. Live video and sampling devices will record certain moments within each play, then broadcast them on a screen or over speakers. The cast will draw from the samples, tangenting from the three plays to form elaborate physical sequences and speech repetitions that are basically inspired by recordings of their own movements and voices; recordings that happened just seconds before. It’s a mind-boggling, self-analytical technique that deconstructs the live aspect of theater on a moment-by-moment basis.
“We’re always on a tightrope,” says Three Plays director, Bryan Markovitz, “where you never know if things are just going to get way too out of hand; moments where you’ll wonder how [the cast] can possibly pull things back into making any sense.”
Don’t be intimidated by all the theory-talk, though. No company balances chaos and entertainment better than Liminal. Their technical virtuosity is unprecedented for a small company, and their abnormally long rehearsal process allows for fascinating and deeply complicated experiments with text and movement.
“There is so much happening [in Three Lives],” says Markovitz. “We are demanding a level of thought in the audience that they may or may not want to have in their evening of entertainment… but at least the senses will constantly be fed.”