Three Plays Five Lives

Portland Mercury, April 24, 2003

By Justin Sanders

Three Plays has allegedly been in the works for two years, and it shows. Love it or hate it (and many people will hate it), it is impossible to not be impressed by its exquisite layers of detail. Three ramps, strikingly white against the Liminal Space’s dark, vast walls, provide a brilliantly simple platform for a merciless, exhilarating blend of movement and text experimentation. The three women (Amanda Boekelheide, Georgia Luce, and Madeleine Sanford) and two men (Jeff Marchant and Patrick Wohlmut) that make up the very attractive five lives, roll, flip, dangle and slide back and forth and up and down the ramps, all the while chanting, singing, or just saying the text from three different plays by Alex Reagan. There’s also a multimedia angle to the proceedings, a mic/camera arrangement that records specific moments from the piece, then repeats the sound samples over speakers, or flashes the video sequences on the ramps.

What this all adds up to is… challenging, to say the least. The viewer is encouraged to read [synopses] of the plays provided in the program. One play follows an architect with a troubled past; another portrays the children of a dying artist as they destroy her famous paintings; and the third examines foreign-aid workers as they struggle to survive in a war-torn village. 

These are deceptively simple premises; Liminal’s program’s summary of each is surprisingly long and dense. Even if one is able to commit the stories to memory before the show begins, the production instantly hurls them through a whirring fan of multimedia, avant-garde excess, and the resulting pile of chunks is pretty incomprehensible.

Many viewers will be infuriated by this stubborn dismissal of linear story lines, but the gap in comprehension is intentional; Liminal deconstructs the live presentation of its source material as a means of commenting on the nature of live presentation itself. The text is not nearly as important as the subversion of it. Would Three Lives benefit from a clearer understanding of the original text by the audience? Hard to say. Its intention is not to subvert what we think about, but how we think about it. But don’t we need to know what we’re thinking about before we can think about how we’re thinking about it? I think so. Or maybe I don’t think so. Blah! Why am I still thinking about it!? Oh, right, because I can’t stop thinking about it. Nor do I want to