Our Last Night on Earth:
A Countdown to the
A messy, unfocused ‘party’ that’s no way to see the world to its end
|Our Last Night on Earth:
A Countdown to the Mayan Apocalypse
Review by Clint May
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again—two dots is a line, not a pattern. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the performance space in the Flat Iron Arts Building is cursed for me. Having first been there for the absolutely dreadful Rise of the Numberless, I was hopeful that the miasma of heavy-handed hipsterdom that permeated my memory of that place would dissipate with Our Last Night on Earth: A Countdown to the Mayan Apocalypse, the world premiere by Collaboraction. No dice. This counts as theatre in the same way that a group of teenagers putting on a Murder Mystery party does. Mingled with the kind of idealistic earnestness normally seen in college students after their first week of taking a philosophy class and maladroit modern art seen in backwater museums, the sum total is a bafflingly un-engaging experience that had me counting down the minutes until I could leave.
In theory, the outer world of Chicago is ablaze as it once was long ago, and the fires creep ever closer to Wicker Park. The only place for shelter is the third story space at the top of the Flat Irons Arts Building, where the Society of the Feathered Serpents have reinforced the space in preparation, following the prophecy of their long dead founder. Holed up as they are, they are having a party prior to their initiation rite, as only by awakening themselves to a higher level of consciousness can they (and we) avoid perishing in the cataclysm outside. The actual presentation of this idea is rather muddy. Thankfully the program did the bulk of the work explaining what was happening (a serious pet peeve for any regular theatre goer.)
As initiates, we are led up by a guard—after giving him our secret code words—who tells us some of this story. Once inside, the space has been subdivided into several stations. I’m normally fairly game for works that require me to engage myself, so I wandered over to The Seer to have my fortune told. Turns out it was dead-on—the cards designated me The Oracle (one of the 13 immortal essences), and as a critic it’s not entirely wrong, though I don’t speak in riddles. Feeling angry about losing loved ones and your house? The Rage Station allows you to take your aggression out on a punching bag. At the Echo Dance Portal, you can be immortalized by a video screen that records movements and plays them back to you. Even though I don’t particularly like oranges, I visited the Last Orange cubicle to put on some headphones and listen to a voice instruct me in the dissecting, appreciating, and consuming of my last fruit on this Earth. The one station I was most thankful for was The Bar, where PBR (what else would you expect in hipster town?) was a mere three dollars.
At regular intervals, one of the Feathered Serpents comes over the megaphone to tell us of the fire’s progress, but assures us of our safety within these walls. Sound designer and DJ Stephen Ptacek could have done a little more to bring that illusion to life with some sounds of flames, panic and sirens just outside, but alas, it was not to be. Instead it’s mostly techno music, visually augmented by another actor-turned-salesperson selling rave-style glow trinkets from a backpack. The various actor plants play the parts of singed survivors rushing in from the streets, an angry nihilist, and devoted followers. There are some strange turns, such as when the power goes out and they begin telling bad jokes, or the ending, which I’m not sure I can even describe beyond that it involves some frenetic dancing in feathered costumes.
Immersion theatre doesn’t need to involve gimmicks. I wish I could get The Neo-Futurists to put on Burning Bluebeard every year as an object lesson in what it truly takes to get an audience engaged without using tricks or resorting to hokiness. You can make walls evaporate with a compelling story. This muddled mess has all the thespian finesse and urgency of bit players in a haunted house in someone’s basement. As the ‘party’ drew to a close and the Fifth Age began, I found myself inching towards the coat closet, more than ready to take my chances in the charred ruins of the city than endure this any longer.
Our Last Night on Earth continues through December 22nd at Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Dec 13-17 and 20-22 at 8pm. Tickets are $15-$25, and are available online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Collaboraction.org. (Running time: 80 minutes without intermission)
Allison Carvalho, Dennis Davies, Erin Haddock, Eve Rydberg, Ezra Bookman, Frank Sjodin, Jennifer Kaesheimer, Kanome Jones, Kristen Johson, Lauren Bourke, Noah Appelbaum, Rebecca Miller, Shawn Casey
behind the scenes
Nathan Green (Director), Annie Rudnik (Production Manager), Mark Jesse Swanson (Stage Management), Eleanor Kahn (Set Design), Chase Corman (Lighting Design), Stephen Ptacek (Sound Design), Elsa Hiltner (Costumes), Kate Vangeloff (Dramaturgy)