Theatre Project opener: a matter of time

September 24, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

'A Traveling Song'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Oct. 10. Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

** 1/2

5/8 Twenty-three years is a venerable age for a theater, particularly one that specializes in the avant-garde. So it seems fitting that the Theatre Project has launched its 23rd season with a show about the passing of time -- "A Traveling Song," created and performed by the Amsterdam-based Heriette Brouwers and Beppe Costa.

The actors are already on stage when you enter the theater. Brouwers is crouched over a bucket against the back wall, and Costa is sitting in front of a tall, triangular metal shaft in the middle of the stage, chanting a Sardinian folk song and playing a tinkly African musical instrument called a kalimba.

Then the house lights dim, and Brouwers stands, sings and makes various guttural noises as she dribbles sand from her bucket in a large circle around the periphery of the stage. Lo and behold, when she's done, the stage, with its vertical metal shaft, is transformed into a giant sundial.

Thus the stage is set for Brouwers and Costa's multifacted exploration and interpretation of time: what it means to us, how we spend it, how we waste it, how it gets away from us, how it controls us -- you name it.

Directed and choreographed by Brouwers, with original music and text by Costa, the hourlong work, which also examines dreams, draws on such eclectic sources as Bruce Chatwin's "The Songlines" and speeches by a turn-of-the-century Samoan chief named Tuiavii.

The result is a journey that is at times whimsical, at times wistful, at times thought-provoking, and at times a bit confusing -- a shortcoming Brouwers herself acknowledges about two-thirds of the way through when she says, "This is a very confusing business which I never really understood."

And indeed, Brouwers, who is the more graceful but severe of the pair, engages in some fairly obscure activities. One of the strangest occurs when she relates a dream while holding the open end of her bucket, now filled with seashells, against her chest. As she speaks, she shakes the bucket so the sound of its shifting contents competes with her words, and every now and then a seashell topples out. Then the dream ends at the sea, and she pours the rest of the shells over her head.

Rumpled-looking Costa provides most of the humor of the piece. He is at his funniest zipping about at a frantic and exhausting pace as he re-enacts a trip around the world in 80 hours. Every time he tries to get a little sleep, using his briefcase as a pillow, the case takes on a life of its own, lurching a foot or two ahead of his prone body.

Throughout most of "A Traveling Song," an illuminated clock hangs at the rear of the stage. Oddly enough, considering the subject matter, the clock does not keep time with the action. In fact, it doesn't seem to keep time at all.

Then again, perhaps that's the point. Early on, Costa says, "I believe that time escapes us. . . . We are always chasing it . . . but time is still and peaceful." "A Traveling Song" is about appreciating time instead of abusing it, and even though the piece is occasionally puzzling, it's worth the time.

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