The bizarre odyssey of Lisa Nowak (Shawn Lockie) has culminated in her interrogation in a Florida lockup by the chameleonic detective-corporal Camuso (Tom Colitt). Sleep-deprived and unhinged, the highly educated and trained Lisa conjures up fantasies, excuses and deceptions, as does the investigator, in his own circuitous and devious way, repeatedly mixing up her identity with another female astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Any hints of the tabloid origins of the story are ruthlessly purged in a series of refracted contemplations on the fractured stresses of a spiritually adrift soul.
Inspired by the transcript of her 2007 police statement, this world premiere presentation sponsored at the Son of Semele space in Silverlake could well be entitled “The Passion of Lisa Nowak,” as it is fundamentally a musical and sound piece as much as a drama. Her tormented rationalizations assume metaphysical dimensions that weirdly echo Jeanne d’Arc and her inquisitors.
The musical composition by David Dominique never merely backs or underscores the action but instead comprises an integral component of the overall expression, just as writer-director Joseph Tepperman’s complicated sound design constitutes every bit as significant a part of the text as his words. Indeed, one could well perceive this as a contemporary classical chamber oratorio, for amplified voices, tape and a piquant ensemble of accordion, flute, viola and electric guitar. To open ears, the advanced tonalities harmonize euphoniously, if with a free-ranging dread.
Those looking for clearly delineated meanings and conventional logical progression will be frustrated and probably annoyed. The strength of the piece lies in its insinuating allusiveness, which might have grown tiresome save for the pinpoint grounding of the players in moment-to-moment conviction, and the precise and intricate orchestrations of motifs and themes expressed through thoughtfully interwoven speech, distortion, effects or music. Unashamedly abstruse, it manages to sustain interest and involvement through its commitment to juggling ideas through formal gymnastics.
It might be usefully tightened, a subsidiary skein of references to a condemned inmate on death-watch adds more obscurity than density, and a climactic violent gesture goes down one rabbit hole too many. Yet the invention disdains quibbles in pursuit of its larger poetry of isolation and breakdown, the only journey it is prepared to travel. We can go along, or not, with this determined and challenging vision.
Venue: Hanistarot at Son of Semele Theatre, Silverlake (runs through June 16)
Cast: Shawn Lockie, Tom Colitt
Playwright-director & sound designer: Joseph Tepperman
Music: David Dominique
Lighting designer: Jose Emmanuel Varcia