The first thing that strikes you about "Sachamanta Salamanca" -- the latest work by the Argentinean troupe, Diablomundo -- is that there are no puppets. The company, which made its Baltimore debut in May with "Memories, Dreams and Illusions," is known for its puppet skills.
But, impressive as those skills are, they're barely missed in "Sachamanta Salamanca," a ritual journey of discovery that is receiving its world premiere at Towson State University under the auspices of the Maryland Arts Festival and the Theatre Project.
Instead of puppets, "Sachamanta Salamanca" relies on striking imagery. The desert-like set -- sparsely decorated with gnarled rock and plant formations -- suggests a cross between the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and the paintings of Salvador Dali. Death is portrayed by a masked, black-clad actor on stilts; he looks like a giant spider.
Unlike the Commedia dell'Arte-based "Memories," "Sachamanta Salamanca" displays a darker sensibility. Although its creators acknowledge a debt to Carlos Castenada and Arthur Rimbaud, more than anything, the new work derives from the world of nightmares.
Once again, the plot focuses on a man trying to find himself. (If that sounds dated, well, in many respects Diablomundo appears to be stuck in the 1960s.)
Searching for the key to love, the protagonist, Inocencio (Roberto Uriona), must pass the tests of fear, enlightenment, power and old age. In the process, he battles Death (Marcelo Frasca) and the Devil (Miriam Gonzalez), with only an old woman named Dona Juana (Ibis Perla Logarzo) to guide him.
The section in which Inocencio overcomes his fears is the most visually effective. At one point, the stage is covered with a huge, billowing blue cloth through which Inocencio's torso protrudes, making him look like a desperate swimmer in infested seas.
If none of the other images is up to this level, perhaps it is because none of Inocencio's other tests is as moving as his attempt to conquer fear. Yet ultimately, Diablomundo's vision seems to have matured in "Sachamanta Salamanca"; its impact may not be profound, but there is something compelling about the ongoing struggle between hope and despair, virtue and evil.
When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through July 28.
Where: Towson State University, Fine Arts Center.