Monday, May 17, 2010

Wanderlust: A History of Walking


‘WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING,’ which is getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, is both a fascinating history of walking and a challenging piece of theatre.

Matthew Earnest has adapted Rebecca Solnit’s book into a play about bipedalists. It examines almost every aspect of walking -- from pilgrimages to modern protest marches, from the back-to-nature movement to street-walking, as well as the mentality of putting one foot in front of the other. The adaptation basically holds true to Solnit’s intellectual rigor and poet’s voice, while accepting her premise that 21st-century Americans are missing out by our obsessive reliance on the automobile.

At the start of ‘WANDERLUST,’ we are confronted with a large playbox filled with sand and a back wall consisting of large black panels. A Cleveland team of paleoanthropologists examines the bones of a recently discovered 3.2 million year-old hominid they have named Lucy. This unfolds into a series of vignettes which include a Greek modern tourist lecture while walking the Acropolis, a sequence on mountaineering, Martin Luther King's civil rights marches, an AIDS Walk and ultimately, to Solnit's symbol of a post-Walking America, Las Vegas. Sin City, the site which allows Americans to “walk” around the nation and the world, seeing the Eiffel Tower, New York, Venice and numerous other famous sights while driving around in an automobile. (This scene is absolutely hysterical and the show’s highlight.)

The challenge to Earnest, who is a very creative director, is how to stage what is basically a collection of instances, into a cohesive unit that will hold the audience’s attention. He succeeds on a high level.

Earnest choreographs much of the action. One very clever bit was having the cast reenact Lucy’s movements by manipulating the bones, while the “real” Lucy walks. He also helps the audience follow the actions by having the cast chalk the settings on the black back wall. It might have been helpful to put them in the order in which they were performed as, after a while, the markings overlapped and became confusing.

The 100-minute intermissionless piece is a little too long for a comfortable sit, but the well prepared cast is excellent. Nicole Perrone, Kevin Charnas, Trae Hicks, Jonathan Ramos, Pandora Robertson, and Adam Thatcher are all excellent. Alexis Generette Floyd stands out as the reincarnation of Lucy, walking and dancing with ease, and playing the violin with great proficiency.

I don’t know who dragged that ton of sand up to the second floor of CPT, but he, she, or they must not be looking forward to the end of the run when they have to drag it down all those stairs.

Capsule judgement: ‘WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING’ is an interesting theatre piece, which may be too talky for some, but will be a fascinating theatrical experience for others. Whatever, if you see it, you’ll never take a step without thinking of the ease of your gait, while understanding the evolution of the act.