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    L and R: Stephen Donovan/The Shadow and Mark Dendy do battle in Mark Dendy: Labyrinth
    Photo by Marisa @RockPaper
    L and R: Stephen Donovan/The Shadow and Mark Dendy do battle

    Into the Dark, Into the Light

    Mark Dendy and his Labyrinth at Abrons Arts Center


    Mark Dendy does some of his best work in the dark, apparently. Labyrinth explores emotional and metaphysical darkness with song and dance and artful soul-baring, and it is equal parts comic, gut-punching and revelatory.

    Choreography by: Mark Dendy.
    Dancers: Mark Dendy, Stephen Donovan, Matthew Hardy, Heather Christian.
    Music by: Heather Christian.
    Sound design by: Stowe Nelson.
    Lighting design by: Jay Ryan.
    Production stage manager: Stephen Donovan.
    Video, Set, Props and Costume Design: Stephen Donovan.
    Dramaturgy: Tom Cole.
    Abrons Arts Center
    October 9-26, 2014

    Theseus and the Labyrinth are early metaphors for going to the darkest parts of one's self and successfully coming back out, which is the main thrust of the evening. The Shadow (Stephen Donovan) helps and harasses Dendy on his journey, sometimes as the voice of reason and sometimes as the voice of crazy. Heather Christian creates lyrics and music for everything, and sings us through scene and mood changes, brilliantly. Matthew Hardy fills in the cast and story as needed, as The Dark Companion/Bartender/Preacher/Gardener, doing much of the dancing that gets done. And Dendy gives us/inhabits Theseus/himself, Pawnie Ariadne/the ghost of ragged NYC, his grandmother Hannah, and his Daddy. It is a full stage, crowded but never cluttered.

    Mark Dendy/Princess Pawnie Ariadne in Mark Dendy: Labyrinth  
    Photo by Marisa @RockPaper  
    Mark Dendy/Princess Pawnie Ariadne
    Labyrinth is dense and meaty, but sneakily so. Each new main character, all of them Dendy, lures us in and then lays it on, showering us with more information than we think we can absorb in a way that soaks us deeply. Acting may be an option if this dancing thing doesn't work out; this story of pursuing stardom as a choreographer could not have been pulled off if Dendy weren't also a consummate actor. And writer — it's one thing to inhabit a character, altogether a different thing to edit and create the lines for that character that do the luring and lambasting.

    In broad strokes, this is a memoir of psychosis and its genesis, if either thing is knowable. That is certainly one of the points of Labyrinth; each audience member is encouraged and cajoled to fill out a questionnaire which is clearly meant to measure mental health and detect psychosis. The message is clear; there but the grace of ____ go I/you/us. The Shadow can feed on anything to pull us into the darkness.

    L-R: Stephen Donovan, Matthew Hardy, Heather Christian in Mark Dendy: Labyrinth
    Photo by Marisa @RockPaper
    L-R: Stephen Donovan, Matthew Hardy, Heather Christian

    And the darkness in the Dendy family is incandescent. Grandma fed Daddy fed Mark, each with spectacular servings of self-destructive inner conflicts and outer pressures. To tie NYC and larger issues into the family thread, Princess Pawnie Ariadne is the damaged voice of reason and survivalist humor, who shows up from time to time to wake us all up and remind us that complacency is just as dangerous as trauma; she may be drugged and dead, but she can still speak the truth and get a laugh.

    Labyrinth isn't likely to go to Broadway, though it's probably better written and more compelling than most things there. In the best sense, this is a Downtown play that outrents Rent and leaves a bit of itself lodged in your brain.

    DECEMBER 2, 2014

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