When I walked into a black box theater at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop with nothing but a bed and two microphones on Wednesday night, I honestly did not know what to expect. However, Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s production of Oxygen proved to be an enjoyable experience.
Oxygen, directed by Lise Bruneau and Chris Curtis, consisted of three performers: a DJ (Dan Crane) who narrated the event, Him (Mark Krawczyk), and Her (Esther Williamson). The play was organized into an “album” of ten scenes entitled “The Ten Commandments.” Each scene was based on a different commandment and had its own song. The two characters, Him and Her, discussed the commandments through a series of arguments and monologues, and how they changed from the moment of their creation to the present day.
Peter Adams’ set worked wonders for the play, first by providing little distraction from the complicated language, but also symbolically. At the beginning of each scene, one of the actors ripped a blanket off of the bed, until there was nothing but a base sheet for the final scene. The last scene, entitled “In the I-pod,” explored the root questions of life from where the character would be if he were never dragged out of his mother’s womb, to where the actress would be if her parents never met. The actors spent most of this scene lying on the empty bed. I found this choice inspiring on the director’s part because it connected so well with the story. As the scenes’ messages became more specific, the bed also carried fewer layers.
Brittany Diliberto’s lighting worked well for a similar reason. The staging was fast paced, and involved a lot of weaving through the audience and running to different points of the room. Though simple, and only consisting of a few spotlights, they helped direct the audience’s attention to where it was most needed.
The language of the play was beautiful, and carried itself like a poem. Each line, whether the actors were alone or having a conversation, fed perfectly into the next. The words themselves dealt with issues such as adultery and murder, but almost reminded me of those of Shakespearean plays. Every line had a certain rhythm that connected perfectly to the song associated with that scene.
The staging was complicated but helped send the message of the play that the commandments are more complex than we tend to believe. The actors often jumped off the stage at the front of the room and ran into the audience while they shared their arguments over the Ten Commandments. While I am usually not one for audience participation or breaking the barrier between the actors and audience members, I felt the staging added to the performance. The closeness of the actors reminded me that the concepts of the play relate to everyone, and the matters discussed should be brought to our attention.
The actors also gave a fantastic performance with great chemistry and high energy. Their arguments over certain aspects of the commandments seemed real. I felt the actors firmly believed that which they were advocating, and not just playing the part. For example, in scene five entitled “The Arab World,” they argued over the concept of love. The man argued love and insanity were connected while the woman believed there was a firm distinction and love does not justify insane actions. Though the concepts were very global and dealt with matters such as rape and murder that most audience members probably had not experienced, the actors were able to bring the words to life. They found a connection with me that made me understand the concepts.
However, the energy soon became an issue. While it was high, it became a little repetitive. Each scene consisted of similar movement and speech volume, which in the end, began to lose its affect.
The Ten Commandments are values that most religions have accepted to be set in stone, but Oxygen teaches us that there are different sides to every concept and idea. As we move further away from the creation of the Ten Commandments, interpretations of these laws should change with the times.
Oxygen is a success. Both the actors and directors make excellent choices and the ideas of the play is brilliant. Try to catch one of the remaining performances.
Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
Oxygen plays through Saturday May 19, 2012 at Taffety Punk Theatre Company – at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online. For information, call (202) 261-6612, or check here.