A SINSATIONAL PRODUCTION: LIMINAL’S OFFBEAT STAGING OF THE BRECHT AND WEILL OPERA IS A MIXED-MEDIA MOSAIC
The Portland Tribune, Aug 30, 2002
By Michaela Bancud
“Let’s get people a little intoxicated with something that’s accessible but also push them right to edge.” Liminal director Bryan Markovitz isn’t talking about drunken cliff diving. He’s describing his performance group’s current production. Liminal is staging an electronic adaptation of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s opera “The Seven Deadly Sins.”
If this all sounds a bit brainy and a tad Germanic for late summer, consider that for Liminal, “Sins” is a popular, even accessible vehicle. “Our last show was very heady, far less interested in narrative,” Markovitz says. “Our next show after this will ask even more from the audience. So we thought, ‘What if we step back from that for a minute?’ “
The show, an “electric cabaret,” blends musical theater, kinky costumes and original, computer-generated music created by Liminal’s John Barenzen. A four-member chorus will perform the libretto in the original German, and English subtitles will appear on a video screen. The show is set in the all-ages dance club Panorama, a place better known for all-night foam parties than as a site for performance art.
“We thought a lot about where,” Markovitz says. “For a while we were stuck on the Fez and sent a proposal in that direction. But they couldn’t manage all of the schedules. Then it was the beginning of June, and there was nothing available and we were getting really scared. Finally, someone said, ‘Why don’t you use Panorama?’ “
In keeping with the spirit of cabaret, two bars are open throughout the 45-minute performance. A drink ticket comes with the price of admission. A half-hour pre-show includes jugglers, fire twirlers and live piano. Markovitz is hoping to attract a cross section of Portlanders, from Panorama regulars to devotees of Brechtian theater and throw them all together to see what happens. Liminal, a somewhat insular group, also is taking this opportunity to break free of its usual coterie of actors and artists. To that end, it has enlisted the help of celebrated mezzo-soprano Lyndee Mah and choreographer Catherine Egan. Stephen Alexander will play piano onstage.
“The Seven Deadly Sins” was Brecht and Weill’s final collaboration. “They weren’t really getting along when they did it,” Markovitz says. “There was a lot of conflict and tension.” Other productions have failed before, he says, because they’ve tried to smooth over this conflict. Liminal will try to dive right into it. “No one has thought about bringing out the tension that’s inherent. Kurt Weill was going off to America to be a Broadway musical score writer. He was embracing new styles and techniques.”
Audiences probably will have very different expectations, Markovitz says: “Some might get the Brechtian underpinnings, and others might want to just come see a sensational musical in a dark club.” “ ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ fits us like a glove: music, images, text, the episodic structure of the story itself. We break theater up in all these component pieces, wanting to estrange people but also dishing up that culinary aspect, that entertainment aspect.”
At the show’s end, the performers will turn the stage back over to the audience for dancing till dawn. Bring your own foam.