Brain candy

Stream of Consciousness

TThe cast of <i>Stream of Consciousness</i>: Is there a dentist in the house?

TThe cast of Stream of Consciousness: Is there a dentist in the house?

Rated 4.0

Local polymath Doniel Soto of CSUS makes an almost insanely ambitious attempt with this show by his new start-up company, Abandon Productions. Stream of Consciousness traces the thought processes within an artist’s mind—it’s focused on physical movement and the actors’ presence-in-the-moment. The results are eye-catching and sometimes inspired, but the show also suffers occasionally from moments of self-indulgence.

As playwright/director/choreographer/songwriter, Soto guides nine eager, physically fit young performers (mostly past or present CSUS students) dressed in hooded khaki jumpsuits and black Army boots, with only heads and hands exposed.

The show is a free-flowing cascade of scenes (note the title!) with episodes emerging and dissolving into abstract action. Topics extend from the animal kingdom to human childhood and old age, medieval to modern times, and goofy comedy to savagery and gut-wrenching tragedy.

Soto uses low-tech human body resources in a highly athletic way—there are no tricky effects with light or sound, and few props. Many of the episodes are beautifully staged. For instance, in one scene, the nine cast members band together to portray the wreck of a sailing ship in a storm at sea; in another scene, two (female) combatants mount snorting, charging horses and engage in a deadly joust with imagined lances.

Another scene is a wild send-up of a football game—a slow-motion replay revealing all sorts of action that wasn’t visible at regular speed.

There are also lighthearted segments, like one involving a group of guys with a passion for bananas (singing at the top of their lungs about “bananas in the morning, bananas in the afternoon …”).

At other times, the show borders on the wrong sort of silliness, such as a scene in which the khaki-clad cast members form a circle, sit on their haunches and howl like wolves.

The show is presented in a bare, repainted industrial building near the light-rail tracks, with a vast, open space for the performers and a few rows of seats at the back for the audience (the inverse of space allocation in most theaters). It’s basically a white box, and the lights (which are left up throughout) are utility fixtures from a hardware store.

No sound system, either. Everything you hear is a product of the human voice or body contact, as the cast members clap hands, slap legs and occasionally slam into each other. The a cappella singing ranges from chant (hinting at both Gregorian and Buddhist traditions) to African-American gospel, plus some torchy-pop solo numbers.

But it’s Soto’s sparkling, kinetic staging and wide-ranging imagination that makes the thing go. This show is starry-sky boot camp and brain candy for the art set, triangulating somewhere between Joe Goode and Meredith Monk, Monty Python and mime. Soto is tuned into many of the stages of life, and has lots to say.

But Soto would do well to leave the songwriting to someone else—his pop melodies (though delivered passionately by the cast) are fairly mundane, and his ability as a lyricist falls well short of his skillful stagecraft. The final song in particular explains too much, ending the show with something of a muffled thud.

At just under two hours (without intermission), Stream nonetheless feels a little long—probably because it demands a high, uninterrupted degree of concentration from the audience. But there’s a brilliant, if occasionally erratic, mind at work here, and energetic, nothing-held-back performances from the cast. It’s one of the more unusual and challenging shows seen locally in quite some time. (However, those wanting an easily assimilated, reassuring romantic evening should look elsewhere.)

By the way, there’s no heat in the building. Bring a blanket on chilly evenings.