David Wiener’s wistful yet thought-provoking play "Cassiopeia," whose title is inspired by Greek mythology, makes its bow at Pasadena’s Theatre at Boston Court. It’s a passionate work that seems likely to satisfy theatergoers with an appetite for unconventional and challenging fare.
Though the largely enigmatic and nonlinear text requires rapt attention and some dedicated reflection in sorting out the script’s labyrinth of thematic threads and diffuse narrative elements, there are payoffs for those willing to take the poetic journey. Director Emilie Beck, a superb three-member ensemble, and an inspired design team bring the challenging drama to life in an exemplary world premiere rendition.
The playbill cites Austrian physicist Edwin Schrodinger’s hypothetical concept known as Schrodinger’s Cat as a key to the play’s dramatic trajectory. The Boston Court production invites us to imagine a world in which events unfolding before us are very much susceptible to individual interpretation.
In this drama, matters of time, space and our relationships to each other and to the cosmos all play roles in our separate and individual spheres of perception. More than a bit oblique, this tale of two strangers who meet on an airplane, and the ways their lives are affected indeed offers little in the way of conventional narrative development.
Moving along with lyrical grace, the play dovetails musical interludes, contemplative monologues and abrupt shifts in time and place, gradually building a sense of dramatic progression from the imagery and words, and the emotional shadings provided by the actors and director.
Running only 75 minutes, the play features two key characters, Odetta (Angela Bullock), an agitated African-American maid from the South, and the descriptively named Quiet (Doug Tompos), a prickly and preoccupied physicist.
On an airplane headed for an unspecified destination, we quickly learn that Odetta is afraid of flying, especially when finding herself on a particularly bumpy ride. As she seeks to engage the self-absorbed Quiet, she believes she has met him somewhere before.
As each describes incidents from their lives during monologues, some common elements emerge that could point to previous encounters between them. Yet he is disinterested in interacting, fixated on his scientific musings and rapid shifts of thought. PaSean Wilson balances out the ensemble as The Voice, an amusing narrator and superb gospel singer.
The play, which was first developed by Wiener several years ago, and periodically revised since then, is a perfect fit for Boston Court, which thrives on heady and adventurous fare. The company is also known for its brilliant production values, offering designs that richly enhance the moods and themes of the plays.
This premiere benefits enormously from the ethereal and metaphoric qualities of Stephen Gifford’s majestic set and properties design, complemented by the splendors of Jeremy Pivnick’s exquisitely textured lighting, E.B. Brooks’ evocative costumes, and Jack Arky’s atmospheric original music and sound effects.
The actors tackle the difficult roles with intelligence and commitment, bringing nuance, wit, and poignancy to the complex material. It’s a masterful ensemble effort, and all-around exquisite production.