In Theatre Lila's debut production, The Waltz of Elementary Particles, nine actors illuminated like fireflies encounter one another much the way I imagine electrons would if electrons were human bodies. After what can only be described as a birth sequence of sorts, these free-flowing entities of light and purity put on the trappings of modern city-dwellers, primarily through very simple, bold costume additions. From there, through increasingly frenzied, repetitive gestures, each of these individuals reveals what drives his/her day. In all cases, they are driven by media that tell them to buy more, to be more, to achieve more. Ultimately, the particles lose their particle-ness and in exhaustion confront the unknown: the audience.
Sounds a little sci-fi, right? A little artsy, maybe? Well, it is, in its way. But this is one of the best pieces of theater I have seen in five years, and it takes a little explaining as to why.
There are arguably two types of theater: narrative and experiential. While most theater contains aspects of both, the narrative kind dominates our expectations. Most of us expect to be told a story, because written plays with clear story lines dominate our concept of what theater is and should be. But what of this other, shape-shifting thing called experiential theater?
Experiential theater is as it sounds: an experience. While stories can be thrilling or insightful or subject us to rapid-fire ideas or emotions, theater can have a higher calling beyond being a story's vehicle. Experiential theater taps into forces of nature, rhythms deeper than our consciousness, and a collective sense of being. Heady stuff indeed. But the hallmark of a piece that works is actually an absence of muddled thought