BWW Review: JESSICA AND HER SON at Baby Horse Theatre
I have described Baby Horse Theatre as Avant-garde, and while the term is apt, it also is limiting in the way that all such terms prescribe how we approach art. Like all theatre artists, they are storytellers.
Although it continues the interdisciplinary science fiction aesthetic of last year's Robothello the new Baby Horse creation, Jessica and Her Son feels like one of the most traditional efforts from the very left-of-center company.
Jon Becraft has adapted a portion of Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel Dune, a brief, mostly intimate section in which the Lady Jessica and her son, Paul Atreides are refugees, stranded in the desert of the planet Arrakis after Paul's father, Duke Leto Atreides was betrayed and his house destroyed.
Dune is an epic story of imperialism, war, and mysticism, one of the most iconic stories in science fiction literature. Becraft shows great affection for the material, using the segment to foreshadow the primary plotline while exploring the two characters through moments of profound realization. Paul is no common character but an earlier example of the messianic theme that would become overused in science fiction and fantasy storytelling.
But Becraft understands that when people are forced into desperate circumstances they inevitably turn introspective. By focusing on such a moment in Herbert's complex narrative, he also touches upon the universality of refugees in a harsh landscape. I don't know if that was his intention, but it could not help but resonate.
Such associations may come more easily because of the abstract aspect of the staging. As in Robothello, actors wearing masks while we hear pre-recorded dialogue physically portray the characters. The emotional distance that results is calculated but not relentless. Jessica and Her Son is among the most accessible pieces from Baby Horse precisely because the abstraction captures that universality.
It can also make it difficult to talk about acting performance in traditional terms. While the pantomime of Meghan Logue Holland and Amy Davis is detailed and articulate, the voices from Katherine Martin remain crucial; equally measured and filled with exposition but also as expressive of the show's heart as Amy Davis' rich and evocative visual design or Mr. Becraft's sophisticated projections.
Jessica and Her Son arrives more than fifty years after the book's publication, and just a few days after principal photography wrapped on a new film version of Dune from acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve. Herbert's vision is alive and flourishing on many levels. 2020 will bring a big-budget CGI rendition that will undoubtedly realize all of the dramatic scope and violent action of the story. Here now, in two performances of a 30+ minute experimental stage production, we find the heart of the piece expressed in a unique fashion.
Featuring Meghan Logue Holland, Amy Davis, Jacqueline Heinzen
And the Voice Talent of Katherine Martin
Jessica and Her Son
July 26 & 27 @ 7:00 pm
Free Admission, Suggested $5 Donation
Baby Horse Theatre Group
1004 East Oak Street
Louisville, KY 40204