Whatever you are expecting, Samadhi-lila isn’t it.
The brainchild of Joshua Penman, this odd performance piece is neither an opera nor is it the multi-media blitz as it is billed. But Penman’s light and sound effects are vibrant and original, and the energy of certain cast members is almost enough to keep an audience in its seats for 80 minutes.
“Samadhi-lila” is the story of a man, played by Silas Kulkarni ’03, as he becomes disillusioned by his life and is swept away into a spiritual “Somewhere Else” by a mysterious woman. In this other place, he is seduced by demonic dancers and serenaded by the elusive lady who uprooted him. But the plot of the show merely serves as a template which Penman fills with psychedelic electronic music, intense lighting effects and strategic blacklighting.
The cast’s acting is unremarkable, but the dancing of Allison Waggener ’03 and Kathleen Baillie ’04 is energetic and hypnotic. The haunting singing of Allison Ewoldt ’02 is also a highlight, and her expression so tragic that an audience has difficulty taking its eyes off of her. But the confused acting of Kulkarni is flat and best when drowned out by the other performers.
But the movement of the performance in its entirety is too slow. A frenzied dance by Waggener and Baillie in the “Somewhere Else” world lasts over 20 minutes, and while the dancers do their best, the length of the segment and lack of steady choreography makes it tiring for both the performers and the audience. There are long moments with little or no action on stage, and despite the energy of the music, the breaks are distracting.
There are moments of extreme visual and audio intensity that are quite successful, like the blacklight effects during Waggener and Bailie’s long dance, or the use of multicolored flashing Christmas lights that glowed in time with the music. The music, all written by Penman, is inspired and catchy. But for the most part, the lighting is wavering, distracting and detracts from power of the whole piece.
The music, however, is inventive and strong. Penman fuses eerie live music with pulsing electronic beats that raise and settle the levels of energy in the room. His sampling is clever and the live music — percussion, violin and brass — does a lot to set the mood of the piece. Ewoldt’s singing is also lovely, though her lyrics are a bit dry.
The set should be clever, with pussywillow branches, glass, christmas lights and a fog machine scattered throughout the small Morse CD Cafe, but the presentation is marred by the placement of both sound and light board operators. The two staff members stand directly between the audience and the stage, and at slow moments it was more interesting to watch the nervous operators gesture to each other than it was to concentrate on the performance.
Overall, “Samadhi-lila” is an interesting concept which is worth investigating for its visual and musical efforts. But it could use some streamlining in both set, performance and script.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1250″ ]