BWW Review: Rorschach Theatre takes on Death in A BID TO SAVE THE WORLD
Rorschach Theatre often tackles strange and sometimes difficult productions, and A BID TO SAVE THE WORLD fits right in with that lineup. My mind hurts nicely from all the thinking in what is a surprisingly cerebral experience. Written by Erin Bregman and directed by Lee Liebeskind, the play explores death and saving the world with a light hand and an intellectual cudgel.
Death and the apparently interchangeable peace/love/beauty are explored through several drastically different but intersecting stories. In a world where death no longer exists, two young students, Evelyn (Linda Bard) and Adam (Robert Pike), take on the exciting challenge of learning how to die. Meanwhile, a young girl (Tyasia Velines) tries to find out from Death himself (Dallas Tolentino) where her brother has gone upon dying, and a rich man tries to buy world peace.
All of the cast members do an excellent job connecting with the audience and playing their roles, however strange or unnamed those roles may be. In fact, much of A BID TO SAVE THE WORLD seems to revolve around a look at humanity as a whole; of the impact of death and life on us not simply as individuals, but as a collective. Not only that, but the cast often acts together as a moving image as well as frequently performing in one voice, harmonizing together the "song of great sorrow and beauty" that haunts across the different worlds.
One standout amongst the cast is definitely the head librarian, Jen Rabbitt Ring. She achieves not only the most epic librarian face I have ever imagined, but her mystery, memory, and emotions drive and hold together most of the production. Truly a surprising delight.
If you feel squeamish about death or recently lost someone, this may or may not be the show for you. Humor is rife in Evelyn and Adam's storyline, particularly. "One: Find out how people used to die. Two: Try them all." The idea of finding out and trying how to die is intensely humorous -but also deeply dark. Seeing those ways unfold rapidly before you with the single, repeated commentary of "ouch" can feel, well, ouch. Yet, perhaps sometimes laughing at a slightly absurd moving picture display of all the ways we die as humans is exactly the action we need in order to pause and wonder why we make light of death so much, and what else we could be doing. The play does a good job of balancing making light of death and laughing at it with the intense sorrow and great heartbreak in the second story-line, where the young girl, never named, loses her brother to death and herself to grief and must go on a mysterious journey into another world.
There is little linear movement in the show beyond the development of ritual and the shifting through mind and memory in search of answers about life and death. This disorientation, along with the set itself, adds to the effect of an already fantastical feeling show. I cannot help but find some strange hint of a Miyazaki movie in the background music, the set and the more mythological aspects of the production, particularly in the growing of grass between the cracks of sidewalk on the set, the ring at the center, and the interactive movies played with by Adam and Evelyn.
A BID TO SAVE THE WORLD could still use some tightening up script wise, particularly with the third story line that involves the "song of great sorrow and beauty." That story line feels a bit tedious and has a jarringly disconnecting effect every time it comes back into play for the first three quarters of the show. The actors do more than their part to keep you interested anyway, and the story comes into its fullness by the end of the show, but the script can use some work to build the relevance in sooner. Unique, disconcerting, dark, but fascinating, the show kept me interesting, had some delightful surprises, and left me thinking about it long after the end.
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Rorschach Theatre's production of A BID TO SAVE THE WORLD plays at Atlas Performing Arts Center through October 2. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the box office.
Photo: Dallas Tolentino pictured; by Ryan Maxwell Photography