Play Tripper

Along with passing out at the wheel because the car's AC abruptly conks out at high noon, and showering six times a day, one of the charming oddities of the summer months in South Florida is the opportunity to view eccentric types of theater otherwise not presented or generally overlooked during the main season. If you think there's only one type of dramatic presentation A actors speaking to the audience, themselves, or other actors during the course of a plot A consider this definition of the form by the great critic and playwright Eric Bentley in his landmark text, Thinking About the Playwright:

"Theater is a place. This place, in all known forms, sets up such a vibration in those who frequent it that certain properties roughly suggested by the term magic are invariably attributed to the building itself."

Magic. Vibration. Bentley couldn't have described the thrilling, one-of-a-kind experience, the theater of the mind presented by artists Mel and Dorothy Tanner called Lumonics, with more appropriate terminology. Currently in its fifth year at an art gallery with a built-in theater resembling a high-tech Buddhist temple A in Fort Lauderdale, believe it or not A this multifaceted assault on the senses has frequently been described as a "legal high." At the same time, the U.S. Office of Education's Drug Abuse Counseling Program and various local physicians direct patients to Lumonics to relieve stress and fatigue.

The experience defies verbal description, but suffice it to say that anyone who enjoys exploring the hidden caverns of consciousness, anyone interested in the limits of laser technology, any cyberpunk, or any dedicated tripper must pay the Tanners' theater a visit. Lumonics makes the special effects of Jurassic Park, Last Action Hero, or Oliver Stone's TV attempt, Wild Palms, seem as flat as a Dragnet rerun. Let's face it, folks: there's nothing like a live show to truly explode and expand those brain cells. I don't care how loud the sound system is, or how wide the screen, a film is still seen at a distance. Lumonics surrounds you; it's as close to techno-reality as you can get.

The Tanners, who met while students at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, started out as a sculptor (her) and a painter (him). During the Sixties (naturally) they discovered a new material, a hard plastic called acrylic, moved to Miami, and literally began redefining art. When you first walk into their gallery, about a half-hour before the show begins, you see indescribably beautiful sculpture/paintings, many lit from within, some spouting small, gentle waterfalls. These pieces speak to you, and one of the words they whisper is "originality."

As you enter the main theater, you're surrounded by more sculpture; after studying each, you're eventually drawn to a pyramid-built-for-two in the corner, in which you can lie down and be fed kaleidoscopic images on a screen or through goggles. The smell of incense fills the pyramid and the main theater area in which it sits, while the sound of gentle water cools fiery nerves. New age music plays softly in the background. The whole audience -- limited to 40 people, once a week -- grows quiet and content.

Whenever you feel ready, you sit down on a low-lying, comfy couch and wait to be eased into a fine meditative state. As the show begins, the sculptures throb in time to the music and a main screen in front projects patterns of colored lights. Everything feels wonderful and then A bam! A the Tanners turn up the voltage. The music becomes more potent, ranging from thunderous classical to tribal to new wave, and the images rapidly alter patterns into complex laser tapestries. Color and vibration take over and suddenly you're on a roller coaster ride of the brain and body you'll never forget.

Most people in the room on the night I attended were repeat-trippers; some had happily paid their $20 to view the show again, after ten visits. This could easily become a healthy addiction. Instead of spending the money on illegal highs or even imported beer, treat yourself to Lumonics and see what type of plays and scenes you'll invent within your own mind.

If Lumonics serves as the ultimate legal high, then the highly touted murder mystery play aberration, Cafe Noir, sinks to an all-time low. Brought to the Marseilles Hotel at 1741 Collins Avenue by producer and lead actor John Trapani, who worked in the original New England-based company -- Murder to Go -- that started the trend, this show also boasts the fact that it was written by David Landau, who created the interactive mystery form. At Cafe Noir, it's hard to ascertain which is worse: the hotel's food, the weak plot, or the silly, contrived antics of the actors. You eat odd-tasting Caesar salad, cold spaghetti, and over-cooked fish as a cliche tale of intrigue unfolds, involving Trapani as private eye Ric Archer, a sexy dame named Sheila Wonderly (overacted to the hilt by Suzanne Turner), a debonair hostess named Madame Toreau (the only bright light in the evening), and a bevy of similarly seedy characters. People are murdered while you tear apart the stale bread, suspects pop up without reason as you shy away from each new course of the inedible. Meanwhile, the "play" deteriorates into a series of caricatures drawn from every Ellery Queen and Mike Hammer tale. During the bland dessert, you must fill out a clue sheet and guess the murderer of flat, uninteresting players. If I had died the next morning, I would have guessed the main culprits were Landau and the Marseilles.

Stage Notes
Even more than usual, this year's Hispanic Theatre Festival, at least up to the date of this writing, has featured markedly uneven works and performances. Producciones Micomicon from Spain presented a well-directed and -acted version of the classic play by Lope de Vega, Los melindres de Belisa. A wry comic farce that features abused women, battered slaves, and a psychotic heroine, the work moves swiftly and dramatically, especially for a play penned in the flowery lingo of the Sixteenth Century. The Spanish troupe, with only a bare stage to work upon, made the verses sing and the action come alive.

Unfortunately, the fest took a downhill slide after that. The Peruvian company Aceituna Albina presented Luciana Proa*o in an uninspired, awkward dance called Cavillaca. According to the program, the piece was inspired by the myth of a pre-Columbian princess in love with the god of the sea, who later turns into a bird so he can impregnate her against her father's wishes. Without these written notes, I couldn't envision any story as the foundation for such disjointed movements. Proa*o wriggles, tiptoes, and twists awkwardly in her blue cellophane costume, but she doesn't dance or convey any semblance of a dramatic tale.

For the next presentation, Prometeo, the 21-year-old bilingual theater workshop sponsored by MDCC and directed by Teresa Maria Rojas, proceeded to demonstrate why most of their students end up in the melodramatic telenovelas A the Latin equivalent of soaps A rather than in major films. Scenery was chewed to a merciless degree in an allegorical play about Cuba called Ojos para no ver. The script by Matias Montes Huidobro presents cartoonish characters such as an archetypal dictator and an old female soothsayer who speak in drivel; as directed by Marilyn Romero, the acting consists of people forcing tears, forcing laughter, forcing sensuality, but never truly feeling anything. Theatrical events such as this remind me of bad hyperdramatic experiments that polluted New York during the Sixties A more primal therapy than stage training. Thank heavens Greenwich Village progressed beyond that. Promoteo in downtown Miami should, too.


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