Here & Now: Predictably Unpredictable

Miami Light Project’s Here & Now offerings turned The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse into a cabinet of curiosities last Thursday night. Different manifestations of the bizarre — in actions, images, concepts — predominated to varying degrees of impact. It’s in the nature of this yearly event, after all, to let us sample the local Zeitgeist and gauge how far that moves us.

Underwater Opera, the product of an artists’ collective, indeed pushed to be far out but never covered much ground — or, better said, ocean floor. In look and hijinks this came off as bottom-budget sci-fi (think creature feature camp) in a depiction of a water world that seemingly combined science-fair project and Sponge Bob’s worst nightmare.

A very long musical prelude, surging and clanking, from stalwart musicians at the edge of the stage, had us absorbing the scene. Under aqueous light, this was strewn with rocks (which would start crawling later) and delineated by marine specimens hanging from cords (which toward the end would shake as if in a tsunami). All the while, a film loop in the background showed a fish tank full of critters and debris, with human hands plunging in to mess with an already messed-up habitat.

When enigmatic creatures rolled a tank—presumably the one on film—into the playing area, they seemed to be drawing sustenance from it. Was that the last bit of life support left? Who knows? But nothing could save this environment from an invasion of giant seaworms — if that’s what those lumbering zoo-morphs were.

Hard to tell fauna from flora, never mind friend from foe, in the ensuing commotion.

Though at times funny and puckishly clever, this piece remained, well, waterlogged. Yet, despite the ecological details being murky, the creepiness did soak our skin. If society’s reckless treatment of the seas is leading toward such mutant-fright blight, contribute large sums of money to the Ocean Conservancy and head for the hills.

Shock in Hattie Mae Williams’ Snatched came not from fantasy but historical fact. In evidence: Sara Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus, an African exhibited as an ethnological specimen throughout 19th-century Europe; and Josephine Baker, albeit more glamorous but still suspect in displays of cabaret exoticism. Through engaging theatrical stratagems, Williams exorcised a past of exploitation and repossessed the power of African traditions with women at the core.
Having been exhorted to leave their seats, members of the audience, soon divided into groups by gender, explored different tasks at a series of stations throughout the theater. Participants watched a film where a woman was plastered with sticky labels bearing derogatory terms; they peeked into a crate containing human cargo; they shared food and handled pods charged with ceremonial purpose.
Most compellingly, reunited men and women listened to oration and folkloric fables from their female roustabouts. Thus the racist titillation of the peep show was supplanted by the dignified draw of the noble voice. Williams, Loni Johnson, Alexis Caputo, and Shaneeka Harrell rewarded our attention by turns.

Lázaro Godoy brought Harmonicum Accordion | Act 1, capitalizing on our fascination with the freakish. On view was quite a grotesque little clan. The patriarch (Sangode Lowe) came out hobbling and wheezing, a gnome that manipulated his underlings (progeny? subjects? perhaps both). A sort of strung-out Pierrot (Godoy) yielded lethargically, and two females (Carlota Pradera and Melanie Martel) showed off contorted formations — at times like conjoined twins, at times with separate spasmodic intensity. The interaction among these was often peevish and rarely less than blunt.

This ritual of control, struggle, and accommodation gained consequence thanks to the cast of supple and evocative movers. Flashes at the end, the thrumming score at a peak, aroused the patriach from a throne as if all had been a nightmare. Stay tuned for Act 2.

Directed in brisk strokes by the author, Michael Yawney’s Exile Jesus Starbucks offered a fairly compelling portrait of multi-talented Iranian artist Assurbanipal Babilla (Babi). The first scene showed him prone on the floor, bantering with a woman friend; this conveyed, with absurdist tones, how he hid under her bed as the Ayatollah’s repression heated up enough to have his paintings burned in public. Discharging homoerotic defiance and worldly wit, the artist wielded irony against an iron regime.

In the New York exile of the second scene, Bani remained irrepressible despite the different adversity of the uprooted. Among his worries: an actor playing Jesus had derailed a Passion play of his by going truant. Bani managed to regroup his strapping young players and stride forward again. The closing episode took place in a Starbucks storage room, where the manager gave the artist shelter.
The infatuation with Jesus continued as Bani fixated on a sculpture to be placed at the foot of the cross. This small construct of found materials forming spirals and domes, as much temple as pleasure palace, could serve as a symbol for the creator’s own strivings, which straddled the carnal and the divine.

With both a heavy accent and fleet delivery, Carlos Orizondo made Bani’s bitterness flavorful and his enthusiasm an inhalation for survival. Rebecca Covey as Niloofar, her countryman’s protector, balanced exasperation with indulgence — her spirit of practicality tempered by care and understanding of the artist’s peculiarities. The particulars of this story may have come as a discovery for many in the audience, but exiled artists like Bani from other places would not be rare finds — have you checked your Starbucks lately? — in the haunts of South Florida.

-Guillermo Perez,

Here & Now continues Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. at the Lightbox at Goldman Warehouse, 404 N.W. 26th St., Miami; tickets: $25; or 866-811-4111.