The new production from New Paradise Laboratories, called
, begins and ends in huge shots of haze expelled onto the stage. And it's pretty much haze all through, even without the industrial-strength mist maker.
But then, 27 is about death and some sort of purgatory - and though things aren't quite as gruesome as they are in the middle part of Dante's Divine Comedy, when souls are stuck in an endless world of waiting, it's just as unsettling. The show's title invokes singers Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse, who all died at age 27.
There's not much to do when you're a dead spirit still full of youth, and 75 minutes of it surely makes that point in a set of bare walls, a lighted star with a huge hole in it, windows that lead the dead back into the room as they are pushed by a storm always brewing in the great beyond (a cool stage effect). There's a lot of flotsam, some of it in the form of the six actors, who don't stay still for long. To music provided by one of them, guitarist Alec MacLaughlin, they have their own movements, which they perform again and again.
Their smacks on tables and leaps onto walls, plodding walks and crawls and sudden wildness are the reason to see 27. New Paradise artistic director Whit MacLaughlin is an innovator in multimedia theater, but here he depends on good old sound, light, and aching physicality to get across the feeling of premature death and wasted opportunity.
Or at least that's what I think he's doing. For me, MacLaughlin is best when he has a clear subject; if Batch, about a guy's last night as a single, were playing I'd stop writing and run to see it.
But 27 is more ethereal, harder to access. It's also beautiful physical theater - the lithe and lurching Matteo Scammell, Julia Frey, Allison Caw, Kevin Meehan, and Emilie Krause give performances of such exertion it almost hurts to watch them. Still, like the spirits of the dead they portray, no matter where they go or how they go there, in the end they are only running in place.
- Howard Shapiro