Sit down and strap in, because it’s T-minus 30 minutes to launch at Nocturnes I-III, the latest original show from New Orleans’ Skin Horse Theater. Nocturnes takes on the dreams and realities of space exploration in three independent acts, framing its lofty concept with a down-to-earth prelude and finale.
At first, performer Brian Fabry Dorsam rushes down an outdoor train platform, just barely missing the last train for hours. As Dorsam settles in for a long wait, he — and the audience along with him — is transported back in time to Russia’s 1961 Vostok space mission.
Here, Dorsam becomes Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space and orbit the earth. Acting as mission control, cast members break the fourth wall, introducing themselves to the audience; as a digital clock counts down behind them, they set the stage for Gagarin’s launch with readings and quotes from philosophers, politicians and cosmonauts.
You get the impression that the Skin Horse crew is having a lot of fun here, and not just because of the impromptu “Major Tom” karaoke scene. With the help of roaring sound effects and spectral music, the cast effectively creates a sense of urgency as Gagarin prepares for liftoff.
The show’s tranquil second act takes place in microgravity — essentially, zero-G. Performer Veronica Hunsinger-Loe floats solo onstage for much of the act, reading and performing her mission duties with the help of her black-suited castmates. Pushing and pulling objects around the stage, these background actors successfully create the impression of weightlessness. On the visual side, Hunsinger-Loe’s powder-blue space suit is nicely complemented by the canary-colored scrap of paper sticking out of her book.
Soon, performer Evan Spigelman enters. He and Hunsinger-Loe begin to throw paper planes at each other: the scene’s real-time puppetry is a leisurely dance, never rushed.
In its third act, Nocturnes drifts into abstraction. A lengthy light show, complete with strobes and thick fog, brings the night sky down into the audience. Constellations of jewel-toned lights eventually pierce the blackness. Though this segment seems to stretch on forever, and the audience became restless at the performance I attended, it’s here that Skin Horse effectively transforms their small performance space into deep space.
When you return to Dorsam’s harried traveler, standing alone on the train platform, he’s been transformed — or transported. This framing device is an effective, modest wrap-up to Nocturnes, reminding us that there is so much more to explore, and we can never lose our sense of wonder.
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