By RACHEL SALTZ
Published: October 8, 2008
The Living Theater wants nothing less than to rewrite the theatrical
contract. Viewers can no longer remain passive spectators hidden in
the dark. There is no fourth wall, so they must become participants.
In "Eureka!" a mix of science class, happening, utopian dream and
group hug that means helping out with a mighty task: creating the universe.
Written by Hanon Reznikov and Judith Malina, and directed by Ms.
Malina at the Living Theater's home on the Lower East Side, "Eureka!"
was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's 1848 prose poem of the same name.
Dense, discursive and long almost 40,000 words Poe's treatise on
the beginning and nature of the universe is notoriously difficult.
Weirdly, it got certain things more or less right years before they
became accepted science: the Big Bang; the notion that the universe
is expanding and could eventually collapse.
These ideas seem to have appealed to Mr. Reznikov and Ms. Malina, who
were married and the company's artistic directors before his death in
May. (Ms. Malina now holds the title alone.) But they don't so much
transmute Poe's poem into drama how could they? as use it as a
There is no proscenium arch in the theater, and only a few seats
lined against a wall. For the first 20 minutes or so, "Eureka!" could
almost be an art installation. The audience mills around, as
performers move deliberately or hold poses on the metal scaffolding
that defines the stage space. There are projections. The actor
playing Poe (Anthony Sisco) sits at a table and writes intently in a
book; the geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (Silas
Inches) wanders around, tapping the floor with a hammer and taking notes.
Then the performers guide audience members into a huddled clump,
which trembles before coming apart with a loud noise. Voilà: the Big
Bang. There's some dancing and twirling, and singing about the
periodic table. "I am the element hydrogen." "I am mercury!" (The
perky music, by Patrick Grant, often reminded me of "The Electric Company.")
The unflappably earnest performers direct the audience members'
actions by whispers and by example: people hold hands or chant in a
circle or march in place, representing the progress of civilization.
(I mistook them for soldiers.) With all this audience participation,
language is used minimally, and the action has to stay simple.
Sometimes it's difficult to interpret and sometimes silly, as
self-consciousness and embarrassment threaten to take over. We're a
long way from Poe.
And certain questions linger. Can the audience-performer divide be
broken down without establishing a new hierarchy of leaders (the
performers) and followers? (A small coalition of the unwilling slunk
off to the sidelines.) How do we think about the theatrical
experience when we're participants?
But a clear point floats above the physical action: "You are the
answer," someone says. If creation is continuous, and we're part of
it, we can change things. This is where Ms. Malina's heart seems to
lie, even if the show's politics its projections of armies and war,
its calls to action can seem diffuse and unfocused.
Poe dedicated "Eureka" to the "dreamers and those who put faith in
dreams." Perhaps it's here that his poem finds its most fertile
common ground with the Living Theater's utopianism.
"Eureka!" continues through Nov. 9 at the Living Theater, 21 Clinton
Street, near Stanton Street, Lower East Side; (212) 696-6681,