Sunday, March 06, 2011


DARWINNII, fascinating theatre at CPT

The place is the Storefront Studio at Cleveland Public Theatre. The visual setting is a red carpet, approximately 20 by 3 feet with a trunk at one end and a shrine-like stand at the other, with two rows of tightly packed chairs on each side of the runway. The vehicle is Glen Berger's DARWINNI, THE COMUPPANCE OF MAN. The performer is Brett Keyser, who has collaborated frequently with CPT's Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan. Their local presentations include CPT's award winning BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD.

Darwinii is a Latin word referring to English naturalist Charles Darwin, thus the title of the play. Darwinii is also a species of the barberry plant family. a native of southern Chile and Argentina, which is the physical setting of the play, but other than that has nothing to do with the plot. Well, maybe not.

The name Glen Berger may sound familiar. He is the author of several Best Play award winning scripts, and is presently in the news as the co-writer, with Julie Taymor, of the much hyped SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. Yes, that SPIDER-MAN! The long previewed, but still officially unopened fate-filled Broadway production. But, as problematic as the musical is, DARWINNI is not troublesome. Well, that is unless you like your plays to be unencumbered by having to imagine what's going on, to create worlds in your mind, and to force you to play with concepts that lead you in one direction, suddenly take you on a sidetrack, and then take you down a dead end to another idea.

DARWINNI is fascinating theatre. Brett Keyser is a fascinating performer. The entire experience is therefore, fascinating. And, a laugh hoot and educational experience, to top it off.

DARWINNI is, according to Bobgan, “a journey of discovery into where we come from, with a strong sense that if we can learn this, then we may come to a better understanding of ourselves.”

The journey is lead by a delightful, illiterate con man who takes us on a mind glide that includes Charles Darwin's discoveries, the character's questionable parenthood, a path of discovery to ascertain whether our guide is really the great-great-great-great grandson of the man who gave us the Theory of Evolution, what is the real meaning of a scrap of paper hidden beneath the cover of a family Bible, and where in hell is Ushuaia. Actually, I know the answer to that one…I've travelled to Patagonia, the tip of Argentina, where the lighthouse at the end of the world is located in Ushuaia, but I have no clear idea of any of the truth of rest of the goings on.

Though the whole experience sounds abstract, it isn't. It's great theatre, creative literary invention, and a fun experience.

Don't be surprised, since you are basically sitting on stage, if you are asked questions, requested to read aloud from secret documents, and politely confronted by the maniacal performer.
Capsule judgement: DARWINNI is one of those fascinating pieces of theatricality that is a delight to behold. It's not theatre for everyone, but if you are the type of person who likes fringe festival offerings, you'll run to the telephone now and make an appointment to be taken on a special journey.