Time gets Sticky in experimental show

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Let’s do the time warp again: Rami Margron (left) is Thea, Lawrence Radecker (center) is Tim(e) and Michele Leavy is Emit in Marilee Talkington’s Sticky Time, a co-production of Crowded Fire Theater Company and Vanguardian Productions. Below: Mollena Williams is The Only. Photos by Dave Nowakowsaki

I was enthralled by the form and baffled by the content. That, in a nutshell, is my reaction to the world premiere of Sticky Time, an experimental new work from writer/director Marilee Talkington. A co-production of Crowded Fire Theater Company and Talkington’s own Vanguardian Productions, Sticky Time is a wild hour of theater.

I will not begin to pretend that I understood any of it. In plain fact, I did not. When I got home, I read the program, and the thoughts of dramaturg Laura Brueckner and science advisor Andrew Meisel were very interesting – all about the nature of time, which is an interesting blend of science and philosophy – but in the moment of the show, I strained to understand but failed.

But because Talkington has created an experience as much as she has created a play, there’s much to appreciate in the design and execution of Sticky Time, which is like stepping into an art installation for an hour. All your senses (except maybe smell and taste) are challenged in an interesting way.

The black box space (the upstairs studio at the Brava Theater Center) has been utilized in its entirety. The audience sits in a clump at the center of the room on swiveling office chairs. The performance space rings the room, which has been draped in white fabric. Lights, speakers and projections are everywhere – a veritable showcase for set and lighting designer Andrew Lu, composer Chao-Jan Chang, sound designer Colin Trevor, costumer Maggie Whitaker and video designers Rebecca Longworth (animation) and Lloyd Vance (cinematography).

There’s a horror movie/sci-fi vibe to the look, sound and feel of the room, which is exciting.

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As for the play itself, I can tell you the actors are all intense and committed, even if I’m not clear what they’re intensely committed to. Rami Margron seems to be at the center of the story as Thea, a sort of plant manager where the product is time. As with all plants, there’s a punch clock for employees and lots of maintenance on machinery that seems prone to blockages. Lawrence Radecker is Tim(e) and Michele Leavy is Emit, the only other plant employees we meet.

So then there’s this weird stuff with “timequakes,” and then Thea starts shooting up from fiber-optic time cables and seems to become addicted, but every time she hooks up to the fiber-optics, she messes with time and jeopardizes her family.

Then Mollena Williams is some sort of goddess figure floating through the action looking all wise and knowing. Her character, The Only, is the only one with a microphone, so her words must be extra-important. Can’t really tell you any more because, as I’ve said previously, my comprehension was sorely limited.

I must say that understanding a play doesn’t necessarily inhibit enjoyment. It certainly limits your level of involvement – especially emotionally – but if a play sucks you into its world, you don’t have to get everything about it to feel part of it. With Sticky Time I can only say that’s partly true. I loved the artsy rave atmosphere of the theater, but this was one long hour. There’s just enough story and character to make you think you should be more involved, but I could never catch hold, in spite of the actors’ best efforts to convey drama and tension.

In some ways, I wish Sticky Time had gone even further and been even louder and flashier and even more incomprehensible. I would relish a breathless hour in which I didn’t have time to think about what I was getting or not getting and just got caught up in the whirl of experience, when time really does stand still.

Marilee Talkington’s Sticky Time continues through Nov. 18 at the Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$40 with student and senior discounts. Visit www.crowdedfire.org.

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