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'The Internationalists' at Lillian Theatre

Poor Dog Group's loopy take on the race to space is a madly inventive blast.

December 18, 2009|By David C. Nichols
  • From left, Jonney Ahmanson, John Kern, Jesse Saler, Adam Haas Hunter and Brad Culver in the Lillian Theatre production of "The Internationalists."
From left, Jonney Ahmanson, John Kern, Jesse Saler, Adam Haas Hunter and… (Jesse Bonnell )

Heaven only knows how extraterrestrials would view "The Internationalists." Our hunch is that they'd feel right at home. Disciplined, goofy, frenetic and provocative, this absurdist abstraction by Poor Dog Group is instantly the craziest show in town.

Using the "space race" of the '50s as a launching pad, the Information Age as viewfinder, "Internationalists" telescopes a nexus of notions into its rocketing ethos. Among the themes: the irony in making rampant technological advances while regressing socially, racial/gender inequities and the messy parallels between Communist oppression and McCarthy tactics.

A silk parachute hovers above a conference table, like some bizarre astral jellyfish. The performers wear Eisenhower-era office garb, barring a lone figure (Itamar Stern) in quasi-totalitarian work clothes who sporadically jars us by clanging a frying pan.

The systemic sound design, punctuated by Andrew Gilbert's guitar-accompanied songs, has imposing scope, and Adam Haas Hunter's saturated lighting is remarkable. Under Jesse Bonnell's direction, the nonlinear course features vaudeville shtick, cacophonies of simultaneous comment, ersatz Frenchmen, a crib from August Wilson's "Fences" and more. This lunacy peaks with a dropped-trousers dance break that gives new perspective on "moon landing."

Besides Hunter, Gilbert and Stern, the ensemble includes Jonathon Ahmanson, a jet-fueled Brad Culver, John Kern, Jesse Saler and the fearless Catherine Ventura. Their elated group cohesion is acute, an American equivalent to European experimental theater. Appropriate, given that "Internationalists" toured Eastern Europe this summer, including the Grotowski Institute's International Theatre Festival.

Not everything carries the propulsion of Culver and Ventura's domestic exchange, lifted from the film "Pollock," or the zany jolt of Stern's revealed identity.

Certain textual crudities are barely ideological crudités. Nevertheless, though "The Internationalists" may vex average tastes, avant-garde fans and adventurous NASA retirees should find it a madly inventive blast.

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