Underland

You aren’t likely to confuse Underland by Alexandra Collier with any play you’ve seen before.  Its “Lost-y” WTFness is more typically associated with television and movies.  It is a credit to director Mia Rovegno that it works mechanically and, for the most part, narratively.  It was not at all to my taste, but I applaud 59E59 for making such a daring selection for their season.

Collier makes great use of the mood and isolation of the Australian Outback where the play is set.  From the opening moments it is clear something otherworldly is happening to the entire population, though some townspeople are more aware than their neighbors.  Collier moves her players skillfully to make the most of the small stage.  Burke Brown’s lighting and Elisheba Ittoop’s sound help create an appropriate menacing tone for the action.

The fantastical dialogue doesn’t always flow.  Daniel K. Isaac fares best as Taka, a Japanese businessman who gets sucked into town through a tunnel in Tokyo.  His character is enhanced by some subtle and imaginative “business” which sets him apart from the residents.  Many of the other actors are weighed down by the thick tenor of their lines.  The performances of Kiley Lotz as Ruth, an awkward school girl, and Jens Rasmussen as Mr. B, a domineering PE teacher, are so overblown they could be starring in a silent picture.  And the talented Annie Golden is burdened with mercurial speeches that are so drawn out they shoot beyond mood-setting and right into numbing.

Just as there is something lurking in the town’s quarry, there is something just below the surface of this piece.  For me, it stayed buried.  But to lovers of all things mystical and unexplained, attendance is likely to be an appropriately haunting experience.

Underland is being presented by the terraNOVA Collective in Theater B at 59E59 through April 25.  For tickets and information, visit http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=199.

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