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Thesis Pieces 

Dell'Arte's three-year plan

Incoming MFA students at Dell'Arte embark on a journey that takes them from learning physical awareness and responsiveness, voice, movement, improvisation and ensemble play, to using those techniques toward character, adaptation and tragedy projects, and eventually to an internship with the Dell'Arte Company. Along the way, they undertake a week-long rural residency, a community-based arts project, a touring original ensemble performance and, finally, their thesis projects.

As North Coast residents, we have a unique yearly opportunity to witness the evolution of the next generation of theatrical performers, and the Thesis Festival gives us a look through the keyhole at the potential for these talented performers from all around the world. When the students imbue their own cultures (this year's graduates represent 10 countries) with Dell'Arte's culture of theatre-of-place, the results are intriguing, magical and rewarding in so many ways.

For the class of 2016, the Thesis Festival ends its run this week at Blue Lake's Carlo Theatre over a pair of two-night sessions: Thursday and Friday, and Saturday and Sunday, May 19-22. Each project stands alone and runs about 45 minutes, so you can pick and choose, or experience all five. All performances are pay-what-you-can and are suitable for ages 15 and up.

In The Trenches (Thursday and Saturday) was created by Jared Mongeau and is performed by Mongeau with guests Dustin Allen and Linus Winberg. Three clown soldiers find themselves in the trenches of World War I, with no idea what they're supposed to be doing. Their general has gone missing, along with their buddy Frank. Both eventually return to the bunker but not in the form in which they left. Chaos gradually descends as the trio is left to their own devices — which include wet and dry socks, tin helmets, a mop and a gun — and the all-too-frequent refrain "may he rest in pieces." It's an entertaining piece that had the full-house audience roaring with laughter, but it could have used a firmer editor's hand to shorten the run time by at least a third.

In Tea Time (Thursday and Saturday), we meet two comrades (Buba Basishvili and Yan Christian Collazo), who are serving life sentences under a watchful red "eye in the sky" that is reminiscent of the menacing bouncing ball in the classic British TV series The Prisoner. Their hopeful imaginations — stylized tea parties, fantastical dances and, of course, ever more unrealistic search for "the place where freedom starts" — are their only means to retain what is left of their sanity. They are forever condemned to fight against a power they cannot see but to which they must always eventually submit. It's a powerful and effective portrayal of a confinement in which "it is prohibited to forget."

Happyland (Thursday and Saturday) is part poetry, part reality show, part Alice in Wonderland meets The Addams Family by way of Cabaret, and a whole bundle of fun. Suzy the Smasher (Grace Booth, resplendent in multiple shades of shocking pink) is fighting her 500th match as the top female wrestler — when she's not playing lovelorn dirges on her violin. Her unlikely opponent is the seemingly mild and equally lovelorn Charlie (Vida Tayebati), a poet who is looking to avenge "all the men whose women left them with nothing." The whole crazy show is emceed by the Travolta-esque Ray "The Fish" Smith (Tone Haldrup Lorenzen), for whom fighting, tears, love (requited or not) and drinking are all part of life's rich tapestry because, after all, the show must go on.

A Feebleminded Mayhem (Friday and Sunday) takes us inside an isolated world of shadows and make-believe inhabited by three women who have been rejected from society for their distinctly antisocial tendencies. Created and performed by Erin Johnston, Kate Tobie and guest Brittny Rebhuhn, it's an absurdist piece that reflects humankind's continuing tendency to impose on others what we fear in ourselves and then shut it away so we can pretend it does not exist. Left alone, the women play out their delusional fantasies until reality comes crashing in. The performers make excellent use of perspectives, shadow play and illusion to draw us into the women's ever more grotesque universe of peel-off crocodile tears, gigantic lipsticks and a piranha.

Quo (Friday and Sunday) is perhaps the most challenging of the five pieces. Created and performed by Robi Arce, Yiouli Archontaki and guest Stella Evangelia, it presents three bandaged and zombie-like creatures who observe the world by removing their eyes and placing them in the palms of their hands. They are trapped in a world where there is no logic, caught in a time loop that prevents them from ever moving beyond the now — until time begins to run out. Dependent on each other, they must work together to make the connections that will let them escape before it's too late, because "we will never forgive those who forget."

Upcoming

Get swept up in Reefer Madness: the Musical at North Coast Repertory Theatre from May 19 through June 18. Inspired by the 1936 propaganda film, the singing satire features wholesome young folks pulled into a web of weed. 442-6278 www.ncrt.net

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