Friday, April 17, 2009

The Temples of Nadir

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I found myself sitting a few rows back from the front as the show started. Natasha Farrow had taken Ben from Insurgent Theatre to the front of the stage to introduce the setting of the play. Ben played along honorably as Natasha, in the role of Fairy Narrator introduced the setting. It was Asheville, North Carolina in 1889. Farrow pointed out the landscape and Ben did his best to follow her lead. It was a dark time for race relations in North Carolina at that time . . . it was a bad time for race relations in general. Eric Theis’ show The Temples of Nadir was set-up to explore the difficulties of race relations then as they apply to contemporary social interactions in the premiere of his play The Temples of Nadir.

Now through April 18th, Lamont Smith stars as Samson Fairchild—a man with a dream of starting an arts school for blacks in North Carolina so that impoverished people have an opportunity to escape lives of servitude in the late 19th century. It’s an interesting premise that Theis handles pretty well in Temples.

Smith has an irrepressible charisma in the role. More than determined, he’s almost inert as a man with a dream of starting an arts school for the underprivileged. The biggest challenge is leveled at him by Karl lewandowski in the role of Carl Lewis—a banker of questionable repute. As difficulties present themselves, Fairchild’s dreams are supported by accomplished perfomer James Duncan (Kid Beat Box) and highly eduated visual artist Emma Mae Fields (Desiree Gibson.)

As a whole, the play is kind of difficult to describe. In spirit ,it rests somewhere between serious drama and historical tableau. With crude lighting and an almost total lack of audio cues, the play comes across as something of an intentionally crude piece of drama, but bits of the story are extremely vivid as the plot moves ever forward to its tragic conclusion.

The real accomplishment here is not a cohesive mood or plot (there really isn’t one.) The real accomplishment here is the presentation of a story that chooses an unwavering, iconoclastic perspective and sticks with it from beginning to end. We don’t really see the depth of any of the characters, but we get a profound sense of who  they are. Lewis is The Man—an unadulterated symbol of white, male dominance as he holds power over an honest, diligent Fairchild. Lighting cues begin and end crudely with no audio to accompany them . . . scenes begin and end with actors entering and exiting as needed. It’s a very decidedly sparse production. The stark simplicity of it all maintains the stark sense of drama that the plat maintains for its entire 2 hours onstage.

Eris Theis’ The Temples of Nadir runs through May 2nd at the Alchemist Theate in Bay View.

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