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A CurtainUp Review

The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental's Flamingo/Winnebago is a fine and theatrical journey of discovery. Luckily the trip, loaded with rewards for the audience, is more important than the destination.

A gas station owner (Muni Kulasinghe) suddenly understands the reason oil is called fossil fuel. The facts literally have been staring him in the face for 32 years on his Sinclair gas dinosaur sign. Petroleum is dead things spewing into the air, and someday it will run out. The thought hits him like a green thunderbolt and propels him on a cross country Winnebago journey. For a compelling reason never satisfactorily explained, he desperately wants to travel from his NJ gas station to Bombay Beach in CA. We discover along the way that his vehicle runs on an alternative fuel that requires diner stops.

In another part of the story a young man (Thaddeus Phillips) wants to find out more about his grandfather. He knows his name, that he worked at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in the 50s and 60s, and that he was reputed to have had a nasty brush with Bugsy Siegel. After a couple of fumbled starts the guy ends up pedaling an old 10-speed up route 66 in search of answers.

The trajectories of the two searchers form an "X": On different quests, they start out separately, satisfyingly converge on the road to Las Vegas, and separate again. Their meandering trips are filled with stories told by people they meet along the way and with their own encounters with service sector personnel (all played by Jeremy Wilhelm and Charlotte Ford). The travelers' tales are idiosyncratic, while the encounters with staff are instantly recognizable. From airline pilot-speak and the idiom of receptionists, gatekeepers, and RV park attendants, to on-star navigation talk, the familiar and finely observed cadences pop with theatricality.

How many uses can be created for a box with an extension arm on it? The principal set piece could be a spatial configuration IQ Test. How can it be positioned, outfitted, adapted, and manipulated to serve a dozen unique uses in quick succession? Oh, and all uses must be reversible because most will be reprised. According to Thaddeus Phillips (designer and director) the convertible set idea was inspired by Robert LePage.
The characters progress on their travels and the central unit transforms. When was the last time you saw micro fiche projected onstage? Ingeniously used video, Google Earth, and still pictures combine in complex multiple projections across the backdrop as, simultaneously, amazing location video is rear projected onto the interior of the set piece. Red and green lensed glasses are distributed to all for a 3-D segment, which is a cool idea, though less effective in use than you'd hope for.

The sound design blends canned tunes and the amazingly good live music of Le Chat Lunatique, the Albuquerque Gypsy band. At times the musicians merge into the stories as actors, just as the principal characters also sing songs and play instruments. One piece starts with a few harmonica chords and gradually accumulates with guitar, bass, and then percussion on pots and pans in an improvised diner kitchen. Picked up with the playing of spoons, the composition crests. It rocks, and then gradually winds down. Whew. That was great.

Lighting design and costumes are remarkably good, and the cast members, who shared in the writing and creation, are as versatile as the set. Human transformers, they shift into a number of characters. The cool, low key acting style of Muni Kulasinghe and Thaddeus Phillips contrasts with high voltage performances by Jeremy Wilhelm and Charlotte Ford, who slightly overplays a number of her supporting roles.

Two troubling issues that mar this otherwise fine, complex work result in an overlong project that becomes muddied. First, according to the post-show discussion, the piece came together in a process of accretion. This is both good and bad. Good because adding many ideas contributes to a meshing of elements, but there's a downside to having a good deal of amassing without an almost equal amount of weeding. While the opening gas station scenes are efficient-- evidencing a process of first building and then paring down-- later scenes become garrulous and less economical. Expanded rather than compressed, the sequences become flabby and correspondingly overlong. With judicious cropping of several long scenes, the piece could lose 20 minutes to a half hour to good effect.

The second problem issue is that although many don't need or want to have everything tied up neatly with a bow at the end, by the conclusion of a well crafted production everything should begin to come together for the aware theater-goer. There ought to be enough information for the show to be understood either immediately or later upon reflection. However, here the outcome of one of the quests remains murky, apparently not by design but due to an information gap.

The two problems could be easily corrected, and otherwise this show is exceptional. Carefully coordinated, intelligent and imaginative, Flamingo/Winnebago criss-crosses time and space with twisty action, Peak Oil Theory, fresh music and inimitable characters.

by The Lucidity Suitcase International, La Chat Lunatique, and Thaddeus Phillips
Directed by Thaddeus Phillips

Concept and Cast: Muni Kulasinghe, Jeremy Wilhelm, Thaddeus Phillips, Charlotte Ford
Musicians: John Sandlin, Jared Putnam, Fernando Garavito, Munikanta Kulasinghe
Lighting Design: Drew Billiau
Set Engineering: Efren Delgadillo, Jr
Video Design: Lars Jan
8/30/07- 9/08/07 World Premiere, the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival
2 hours with no intermission
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/02 performance at the Painted Bride Art Center. 230 Vine St.
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