UT offers Big Bang with experimental ensemble

By Rebecca Phillips

Taking on the task of reproducing both the far-away inception of the universe and the immediate creation of a piece of theater, this week’s Univeristy Theater productions of The Matchstick Theory and Valse are two exercises in experimentation. The shows, which are about an hour in length all together, are two original creations that should not be missed.

Valse, directed by third-year Angeline Gragasin, is a 20-minute piece incorporating music, dance, ritual, formal pantomime, and European clown tradition as her ensemble of eight performers (Samantha Cook, Evan Chung, Elizabeth Godfrey, John Frame, John Lago, Matthew Landback, Vanessa Tantillo, and Katie Waddle) break apart the different performative elements of a five-minute piece of music: “Valse,” by Ernst Toch.

Over the course of the short but intense performance, the ensemble uses gestures and words taken from Toch’s piece for the spoken choir to develop ideas of sound, motion, character, plot, and ensemble. Says ensemble member John Frame, “Valse has challenged me in so many ways. I think that the use of physical and vocal without the standard text is perhaps the biggest obstacle. You have to be able to allow your body to do things that it wouldn’t normally anticipate. It’s about responding to the environment around you and your fellow actors. You have to trust each other and yourself.”

From the work I saw at this Sunday’s rehearsal, it is clear that Valse is exciting, different, and certainly not a traditional narrative play. The climax comes at the end, when the ensemble comes together to present the full piece of music and dance, accompanied by fourth-year Tim Splain on percussion. A unique creation that treads the line between theater and spectacle, Valse is a must-see.

After intermission follows a presentation of The Matchstick Theory, a short play written by third-year Ian Romain and directed by his high school friend, second-year Michael Stevens. The show takes place in the void before time, space, and creation, when two time-travelers from the distant future, Larry (second-year Steve Balady) and Clyde (second-year Andrew Snyder), have come to witness God during the act of Genesis and happen upon a misplaced astronaut named Bob (third-year Phil Marino) from a time not so distant from our own. The time-travelers mistake Bob for God, and what results is a confrontation between the three that raises questions of faith, science, humanity, and compassion.

But they do not have much time. With humor and an appealing intellectual voice, Ian Romain’s well-constructed script is aware that the clock is ticking, and any minute the Big Bang will occur, flinging particles of the three men throughout space. Unless, of course, Bob is actually the deity Larry and Clyde seek, testing their faith with vague threats of a “Big Bang.”

Before its debut here at the U of C, this play was workshopped in Kansas City’s Coterie theater a few years ago and was performed in New York City last summer as a finalist in the Young Playwright’s Round Table competition. With humor, interest, and solid performances by all of the actors, it is sure to be a show that asks unanswerable questions, offers ridiculous solutions, and takes no prisoners as it culminates in an event rarely represented onstage—the Big Bang (as imagined by third-years Yi Zhao and Raj Penmetsa).

So for $5 worth of fun I would advise you to not miss Valse and The Matchstick Theory, this Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Performances will be held in the Third Floor Theater of the Reynolds Club. For more information call (773) 702-3414 or visit ut.uchicago.edu.