Friday, July 6, 2018

When Worlds Collide — The Last Weekend of Mad River Festival Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 8:18 AM

click to enlarge The play known as Embedded (apologies, the exact title causes an html error on our website) takes the stage at the Arcata Playhouse through the weekend. - SUBMITTED
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  • The play known as Embedded (apologies, the exact title causes an html error on our website) takes the stage at the Arcata Playhouse through the weekend.

and Life Beneath the Stars at the Arcata Playhouse, Eli and the Bear at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake all challenge our perceptions of reality and our role in the world.


For anyone concerned with humankind’s increasing overlap with, and dependence on, internet-connected machines, this is must-see theatre.

The central character, a young man named Cinnamon Braganza, is a stereotypical nerd, living alone with his computer and dreaming of being anyone but himself. Thanks to a well-meaning birthday gift from his mother, Cinnamon is invited by a seductive cyber-voice to discover his true self. Thus begins a potentially fatal dissolving of the wall between two worlds that challenges the audience to reflect just how much they may be allowing shadowy web presences to manipulate their minds — and how difficult it is to truly disconnect in an age when 50 million Americans have access to a smart speaker.

The stark set — computer and film projection screens surrounding a basic home video studio setup — lets us experience both of Cinnamon’s worlds simultaneously. Real-world Cinnamon (a pre-recorded Motwani with bad teeth and Coke-bottle glasses) is projected on the video screen, while his sex-symbol online alter ego evolves live on stage before our eyes. By enabling the two worlds to co-exist for the audience, the chameleon-like Motwani skillfully orchestrates the progressive melding of the two personas as we watch cyber-Cinnamon gradually shed the robotic aspects of his character and clothing and absorb more and more of the human vanity and search for belonging projected by real-world Cinnamon. Kudos, too, to Mike Foster and Caitlin Volz for their expert behind-the-scenes coordination of light, sound, and multi-screen projection.

#//<EMBEDDED>//# brings together B F Skinner’s operant conditioning experiments, the manipulative algorithms of social media, and the recognized phenomenon of internet addiction in a brave new cyber world. Everywhere we look, real and imaginary walls are being built up and broken down in the search for our true selves. But who are we really fooling? And who is really in control?

Life Beneath the Stars

Life Beneath the Stars plays on the same bill as #//<EMBEDDED>//#, but I have not had the opportunity to see it ahead of time. Knowing creator and performer James Peck, though, I expect it to deliver on its promise of a fantastical tale of experience, love and regret by a man who now roams the planet with only the stars as his shelter. The show combines mime, mask and puppets, so you know there’ll be plenty to get your teeth into (but hopefully not literally!)

Eli and the Bear

Eli and the Bear is the latest iteration of a piece created by 2017 Dell’Arte graduates Becca Finney, Tushar Mathew and Zafiria Dimitropoulou that debuted in last year’s Dell’Arte Thesis Festival under the title What Have You Done, Eli? It’s a searingly powerful encapsulation of the impact that the loss of everything familiar can have on an adolescent boy.

Eli (Becca Finney) and his mother Amanda (Laura Muñoz) find themselves exiled from their old world – an Orwellian city that requires the presence of a male “head of household” — after the death of Eli’s father. The two are forced to flee to the edge of the city, where the familiar butts up against the dystopian hinterland of death and destruction. Clutching only her box of memories, Amanda stumbles into a familiar-yet-not world occupied by Bumbles, a retired circus bear (Tushar Mathew) and his prized record player, magic rain machine and his own box of memories.

As each character explores how they might — or might not — adapt to this strange new way of life, stark contrasts appear. Bumbles is inquisitive and eager to learn new tricks from his new friends. Amanda is happy and relieved to find a new framework for living that she can trust. But Eli finds nothing comforting in Bumble’s world. With no male role model but the dictator who ruled his old world, his need to control his new world overwhelms him, with tragic consequences.

From her voice to her ungainliness and yo-yoing moods, Finney is adolescent male personified. It’s an extraordinary performance that contrasts dramatically with Muñoz’s vulnerable yet resilient Amanda, struggling to connect with her son’s descent into madness. And Mathew is so delightfully innocent and trusting as Bumbles that you just want to give him a big hug and tell him it will all be alright.

Eli and the Bear challenges us to imagine a world in which individual objects are familiar, but context and perceptions are not. What is magic, and what is real? The truth is out there, but can you find it in time?

The essentials:

#//<EMBEDDED>//# and Life Beneath the Stars are at the Arcata Playhouse Friday July 6 at 8 p.m. and Saturday July 7 at 4 p.m. #//<EMBEDDED>//# goes on tour to San Francisco, Portland and Chicago starting mid-July. More information on the web at

Eli and the Bear is at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 6, and Saturday, July 7, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 8. This one’s going on tour as well — more info on Facebook.

Tickets for all three shows are available at or by calling (707) 668-5663.
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