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Earthlight is a rock and roll good time show that combines music, mime, movement, and a good deal of moxie to provide the kind of experience that is rare in any theater. It breaks the barriers have always separated theater from life and actor from audience without the forced intimacy and self-consciousness that killed the efforts of the Living Theater. The formula is simple: instead of provoking the members of the audience into life with insults and forced participation, you entertain them and make them forget about themselves. As the seven actors move through a potpourri of skits, dance and verbal play, their high spirits are so infecting that by the end of the show most of the audience is up on the stage dancing with the cast without being conscious of how they got there.
The show is essentially a series of fast moving vignettes backed by a rock band playing in the dark recesses of the upper stage. They brush on life, love, war, politics, and alienation but the overt theme is usually beside the point. It is the style of each individual piece that really makes the show. Some have a verbal brilliance that suggests what Printer or Joyce might have done if they had been born in this country. One skit, called "Image Sales," is a staccato recitation of brand names, commercial pitches, and want ads that conjures up visions of America choking on its own verbal clutter. Another mixes the language of a Brooklyn barroom with the rhythmic moans of an OMchant. Other vignettes are purely visual, as when, after going through the motions of a Madison Avenue version of life, a spotlighted actress stands wearing the smile and vacant eyes of a small town politician or of an old movie actor who keeps smiling long after the emotions have been sucked dry.
On one occasion, both words and action are transmuted into a moment of high theater. In that instance the "mime's" the word--the only word. Once couple addresses another with that one word. Each grows more demanding and the motions become more violent. Suddenly, each couple has "mime" to the child. But the emotion soon curdles as each parent becomes more and more possessive and the scene ends with an angry yelling match, again only involving the word "mine."
There are about twelve rock numbers in the show--about half of these are quite good. The main problem of a rock musical is that it's like listening to a rock album for the first time: most of the lyrics are either hard to follow or are totally inaudible. Despite the small size of the theater, the voice projection of most of the singers is not good enough to overcome the volume of the band--two or three of the skits are totally lost on the audience. The band itself makes up for this with some fine guitar playing.
The program says that Earthlight is "an expression of human radiance" meant to invoke "the forces that push upward out of the earth toward the light." Promises of this sort usually guarantee an uninspiring evening, but for once the religious tone is somewhat justified. Earthlight is meant more as a ceremony anyway. It wants to turn the audience on and the evening I saw it something obviously touched the audience besides the actors' hands. In the end almost everyone--performers and viewers--huddled on stage to rock in rhythm to the band's final number without any concerns about the theatricality of the situation: what went on before just made you want to be there. That is enough for any play.
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