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    2018-2019 reviews:


      Our Little Sunbeam
    Space, Time, and Ivanov

    33 Fainting Spells' "Our Little Sunbeam" orbits a world where Chekov and NASA intertwine.


    Would Chekhov's play "Ivanov" have ended so finally if he and his wife had gone for couples therapy? And what if the sentinels in judgment were two wise owls? 33 Fainting Spells ask these questions. They do not venture answers but seem satisfied to revel in life's mysteries.

    Directed by: Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson.
    Dancers: Dayna Hanson, Gaelen Hanson, Linas Philips .
    Lighting design by: David Proscia.
    Set and Costume design: Jean Landry.

    Related links: Official site
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Sept. 8-11, 2004

    "Our Little Sunbeam" is a dance-drama created by the Seattle based company's founders Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson (not related), and New York based performer Linas Phillips. They reconstruct Chekhov's tragedy and the idealistic early NASA space travels. Though the two seem worlds apart, "Ivanov" is actually about Nikolai Ivanov's idealism that amounts to nothing. It is heavy on talk, as is "Our Little Sunbeam." Still, about half of what's spoken is recorded text with only minimal bother to lip-synch. Gaelen queries us cross-dressed and in Phillips' grating voiceover, "You Guys didn't come here for reality, right?"

    The subtexts are intertwined in the multimedia garage-style production. Jean Landry's set is polished with panache. Disembodied line dances from the 60s are interspersed with zero gravity experiments and astronaut conversations. Movements are appropriated from satellite transmissions of space travel gestures. The company, opening the third DTW season, utilizes the new Bessie Schoenberg Theater's state-of-the-art digital and technological capabilities to approximate the idealism at the dawn of the tech age. A small home television screen alternates clips of the astronauts and the dances.

      Disembodied line dances from the 60s are interspersed with zero gravity experiments and astronaut conversations.
    The rehearsal process is blurted in melodramatic asides. The story of Ivanov's troubled marriage is analyzed in a therapy session in which Philips is so committed to his confessional that he drops his microphone. He later reaches over with the mike stand, in a heartfelt entreaty. The deadpan Hansons offer an underlying sense of direction, stabilizing the complex character switches and layering of scenarios, homemade and other songs by Neil Young and the like.

    Two stuffed owls moved on pedestals are both props and cast members. They are lit by flashlights held by unseen actors or stagehands and converse about their dubious purpose in the production, "Don't you love being an owl?" They end their 'duet' in agreement on this. Then they are dragged away to sit like sentinels against the backdrop — a composite of moonscape murals with the small earth above. "Our Little Sunbeam" speculates on the problem of perspective, and concludes that situations seen at a distance appear small. The birds view the next scene — a duet of Dayna as Sasha, beautiful daughter of Ivanov's friend, and Phillips as Ivanov, dancing around the idea of an adulterous affair.

    Gaelen is the dying tubercular Anna (wife of Ivanov). She wears a black frock with a camellia in a solo of pure dance. Her jerky movements achingly express the dissociated body of disease. But in the end she pushes away the terrible truth with her hands and disappears behind a screen. The refusal to accept finality continues after Nikolai Ivanov's suicide. He returns to conduct the women in double time double talk as he moves through his life beginning with his glorious start as a magician. Ivanov relives in the magical performance.

    As in a Wooster Group or Foreman play, time and space are compressed and everything happens on one plane — the stage. Some of it is 'walked through' and opportunities to enjoy the movement are sporadic amid the verbiage. 33 Fainting Spells opts for a sort of Reality Theater that is intelligent and evocative.

    Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold's 1935 play "33 Fainting Spells," dissects Chekhov's plays. "Our Little Sunbeam" is true to the company's namesake. With a postmodern twist of the superfluous, it decries certainty but delights as equally.

    SEPTEMBER 15, 2004

    Reader comments on Our Little Sunbeam:

  • reply   from j.biederman, Sep 18, 2004
  • Great Review   from Martin, Sep 24, 2004

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