Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rumination (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

For those who don't know, Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was a poet (among many other things) eight centuries ago--a time when the civilized Middle East was under attack by the mostly-barbarian West. Europe had begun to take steps that would result in the Renaissance, while Islam was no longer united. Despite a literate and sophisticated culture, it faced increasing political turmoil. But this great man of that age, over time became not only remembered in his own culture, but throughout the globe. He ranks with Shakespeare and Ovid among world writers.

The play Rumination emerges from the impact this man's words have on those who read them today. Nine performers and director Amir Khalighi don't create so much a play as an experience, very nearly a dance performance with words.

And some dance, too.

Doesn't hurt the cast is made up almost entirely of beautiful women. Just saying.

Anyone who saw ZJU's The Raven earlier this year has some idea of what staging a collection of poems can turn out to be. Rumi, unlike Poe, is not Gothic. He seeks not to invoke or explore horror and fear. He too understands melancholy but chooses to sail upon its surface rather than dive into the depths. Rumi has somewhere else to go.

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe. 
Somewhere to take us.

The set helps create the atmosphere, with oriental rugs and pillows below a pair of lovely Middle Eastern lamps. It feels like somewhere of another time, a different era. More, we soon realize what kind of emotional place we've entered. Imagine if you will a campfire. Or maybe an exotic beautiful place, visited at a special time by a group ready to be changed. Like friends at a fire on the beach late at night. Or visiting a garden, the favorite place of a beloved on the anniversary of their passing.

We watch and listen as they talk in the words of the Poet, taste the memories of what they have known and are feeling now.  "Not Christian or Jew or Muslim"says the poet, at least in through the voice of an actor (in this case Mark Hein) "Not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen." Sets the tone nicely. Although written in the 13th century, these gifts of words are for life in all times. What follows are over dozen poems, spoken and acted, recited and sometimes danced. The company of Anna Laura Singleton, Celina Lee Surniak, Deneen Melody, Katelyn Gault, Michelle Talley, Peggy Flood, Tessa-Jade Richardson and Tracey Collins work together very well as an ensemble. No small thing--nor the kind of synergy that happens by accident, at least not often. Clearly everyone worked to create this palpable air of contemplation, honesty and, in the end, celebration.

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe.
Zombie Joe's theatre usually tends toward the grand guignol rather than the contemplative, but we shouldn't forget this company has also done works by Doesdievsky, by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Even an award-winning Hamlet! But one cannot have shadow without light. Rumination makes for a cleaning of the theatrical palate. Fresh water, perhaps with lemon, to wash away the taste of bourbon or absinthe.  It  moves as well as entertains.  That is about as high a praise as any theatrical performance can receive!

Rumination runs Sundays at 7pm until October 27, 2013 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Laknkershim Blvd. North Hollywood  (across from KFC). You can make reservations at 818-202-4120.

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