Arts & Culture

Mythic plays leave audiences spellbound

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Techno-Mythologies Project – two plays written and directed by Ioana Jucan ’11 GS and Robert Snyderman GS – is overwhelmingly dense with meaning. To break through the plays’ idiosyncrasies and begin to comprehend what Jucan and Snyderman are trying to evoke, you might want to do a little pre-play research.

Despite, or perhaps because of this complexity, both pieces possess remarkable staying power. They stick in the mind, recalling themselves in the days and hours after a showing.

“I’m still trying to grasp whatever I can,” said Alexandra Papoutsaki GS in the shell-shocked silence as audience members emptied from Tuesday’s showing of Jucan’s “The Deaths of Pan.” “What I really liked was that two people were the same person at the same time … or were they?”

“We’re trying to understand,” interrupted Paul Berg, laughing.

“The play evoked this ephemeral feeling, like you can never be sure if what you’re feeling is what you’re supposed to be feeling or if it’s just going to be snatched away,” Yuri Malitsky GS added. “Scenes were inconclusive. … It was about trying to connect with the individual while not being able to. … It was a whirlwind.”

A whirlwind – or maybe a panic, a word whose namesake is Pan, the satyr god of the wilderness, shepherds and hunting in Greek mythology. In one myth, after the nymph Echo refused Pan’s advances, he created a panic among the world’s shepherds. They tore Echo into pieces, leaving only her voice intact. That myth forms the crux of the play, which follows various aspects of Pan and Echo across a disjointed tumult of times and places.

“The Pan and Echo myth is an amazing metaphor for network society,” Jucan said. “Echo’s body is torn into pieces and all over the place, and all that remains is her voice. This is similar in many ways to how I perceive the impact of network technology, which lets these people from all corners of the earth speak together, to let their voices be heard.”

Jucan’s work in the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies focuses on the intersection between nature and technology. She said she comprehends nature not as something unspoiled to be preserved, but as an active force that shapes the lives of humans whether they are aware of it or not. Technology, she said, is a way for people to feel as though they are able to control that ultimately overwhelming force.

“How do we represent nature?” Jucan said. “That’s how I got to myth. I use myth, which was initially concerned with creation, with the creation of the world, as a kind of link between technology and nature.” Integral to “The Deaths of Pan,” the final show of which is 8 p.m. tonight in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for Creative Arts, are soundscapes and projected images. Jucan, who is a graduate of the modern culture and media department and incorporates multimedia elements into her plays, embraces both the positive and negative aspects of technology.

“For me, technology both reduces distance and creates distance,” she said. “For example, I’m able to speak to my family in Romania over Skype, a seven-hour time difference … but the fact that I know my world is so accessible makes me invest less in my relationships.”

Snyderman could not be more different. He tries to use only absolutely necessary technology, limiting his cell phone and email use to essential communication with students, family and his girlfriend. His play, “Voice Graffiti,” is an effort to capture the psyche of the living city. He said he perceives the city as a living organism plagued by abandoned buildings, parking lots and boarded-up houses, but he considers his theater a possible cure.

“I’ve been talking about graffiti in the class that I’m teaching. Whether (the graffiti) is a tag or a sentence, the sentence is going to be itself, and it’s going to be influenced by where it is, and where it is is going to be influenced by the sentence,” he said in an interview on the Techno-Mythologies website. He said he tries to bring that same spatial tension to “Voice Graffiti,” a rhythmic, frustratingly languid piece incorporating the work of close to 20 Providence residents and Brown students.

Snyderman said in the interview he was influenced by Providence’s urban farmers, who “use what they have even though the elements and the red tape, just the city itself as an organism, is sort of against what they’re doing.” He also cited the chants of Mexican healer Maria Sabina and the experiences of America’s homeless as starting points for the play.

“The Deaths of Pan” and “Voice Graffiti” feed off each other’s ideas and energy much in the same way their writers have fed off each other’s ideas and energy since they met last semester in a playwriting class. In conversations posted on the project’s website, Jucan and Snyderman spur each other on, probe levels of complexity and catalyze ideas. These conversations are intimate and in many cases amazingly insightful. But that is perhaps one reason the plays are relatively inaccessible to a first-time audience – they are built on months of shared experiences and discussion, the inner workings of theatrical theory as expounded by two theater junkies.

The good thing is that Jucan and Snyderman have documented their creative process. The keys to their plays are there if you look for them. The difficult thing is that, for those who take Snyderman’s advice and “come to it as a wilderness,” the works are rendered overcast, if not opaque.

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