“Water. Gambling. A dove.” Though these were the only four words on The Control Group’s website to introduce their newest show, “Mariners,” they were all I needed to prepare for the performance. Still, this explanation left me with a curiosity that I quelled with a bit of Google snooping. After some research, I concluded that the show would be based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and, ready to watch a graphic story unfold, I headed toward the steps of Sterling Memorial Library on the evening of Sept. 12.
After looking through some photos on the group’s website of cast members in creepy white masks, I wondered if this would turn out to be some sort of cult hazing ritual. (After all, the audience did spend the majority of the show following chanting actors and actresses to various places on campus; we must have resembled a weird secret society to outside observers.)
We huddled near the steps of the library, and at 6:30 p.m. on the dot, one of the actresses (Lucy Fleming ’16) strode past the Women’s Table and then towards one of the Bass Library entrances. She was wearing an elaborate costume made of Glad trash bags and a white bedsheet: She was the dove described on the website. Were we supposed to follow her? Was she part of the show, or someone protesting the overuse of plastics on campus? We didn’t have much time to ponder our questions, as sudden action at the Women’s Table drew us away.
The mariner (Gian-Paul Bergeron ’17) was pushing around a five-inch long cardboard boat on the table and serenading it with unsettling passion. Though I still wonder why he sang so passionately about an inanimate object, he and the accompanying guitarist (Cyrus Duff ’18) demonstrated notable musical ability with their chilling song. After the mariner ceased to push around the tiny boat and got into a life-sized cardboard replica of it (complete with Glad trash bags made into watertight compartments!), we knew there would be some more audience interaction. He walked towards Cross Campus — but then, his ship got caught in ice. This was worrisome because it involved some possible suffocation with plastic bags (college students certainly learn to use their resources well), but the actors’ movements and vocalizations remained fluid and confident.
As it began to rain, we followed the cawing dove to the outside of Woolsey Hall. My notes began to smudge, but what happened next was quite unforgettable. The mariner stole her bedsheet-cape and she seized on the ground for a while before dying; there was an uncomfortable silence brought about by the public assault. Then, the mariner jolted us back to life by singing and jumping around triumphantly. Despite being unsettled by the disturbing on-stage death, I felt excitement as the two other actors (Ellie Boswell ’17 and Luke Johnson ’16) and the guitarist started running through the audience and singing joyfully about the bird’s death.
The mood quickly changed as the mariner realized he had killed the “good spirit” and began to crawl on the ground, moaning the classic “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” The two other actors proceeded to play an intense game of cards around the mariner; the guitarist steadily accompanied them with an eerie, dissonant composition that perfectly complemented the situation. The actor dressed in black (presumably representing death) claimed the mariner and he died dramatically, screaming “WATER!” and scaring the audience witless. We then shifted our attention to the dove, who woke up singing a beautifully operatic melody not so different from a dove’s call.
Despite the dreary weather, the performance by The Control Group was engrossing. Though I would have been completely lost if I hadn’t read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the show was engaging enough that I wouldn’t have cared — the other audience members didn’t seem to and continued to follow the actors blindly through Cross Campus. The incredible stage makeup, original song compositions and dramatic gestures gave the impression that the actors were performing both a modern dance routine and an opera rather than a Romantic poem. But we didn’t attend the show to see “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as Coleridge originally wrote it; instead, we went to see what strange movements and interpretations the actors would employ. We were granted our wish, and I am sure that many of the audience members, myself included, are already anticipating the Control Group’s next experimentation in contemporary theater.