La Luna casts spell with light, sound and music

Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times

"Question: Where will you find both the trendiest European audiences and the most European-style theater in Chicago?
Answer: At the Chopin Theatre?

Indeed, it was a fashionably bohemian crowd -- and one in which many flipped easily from Polish to English as they chatted -- that gathered in the lobby of the Chopin this weekend as local impresario Zygmunt Dyrkacz presented the third Chicago visit of Teatr Cogitatur, the experimental ensemble based in Katowice, Poland.

On view was the hourlong "La Luna," a work of eerily seductive imagery and powerful, sexually charged physicality that evoked the striving, twisted, frustrated, self-indulgent lives of four artists -- writer, sculptor, musician and dancer -- who share a tenement building as well as an all-pervasive angst.

Mood is of the essence in Teatr Cogitatur's productions, with the minimal text for "La Luna" -- which takes the form of poetic ramblings in the style of such French decadent writers as Baudelaire and Rimbaud -- performed by the six actors (Maciej Dziaczko, Karol Foltynski, Katarzyna Mrozinska-Isdebska, Marta Kadlub, Ewa Pirowska and Marek Radwan). What is crucial here is the spell director Witold Izdebski and his troupe weave with the use of light, sound and driving music (the work of Tomasz Kalwak) that sets the rhythm of the brief, atmospheric "scenes" that emerge from the black hole of the stage like living nightmares.

It is out of this void that -- with the use smoke and mirrors, as well as a set design comprised of four cubbyhole "apartments" that assume the quality of peep show stages -- that the characters and their dark psyches emerge.

As the music surges, a girl in "Cabaret"-style lingerie does suggestive leg exercises; another strips slowly; another knits with a certain madness. A man attacks his typewriter. Another clearly is drinking himself to death. And yet another erupts in a whirlwind of futility, swinging his arms to generate a crazy momentum.

A train pulls into a station. There are shouts of "Merry Christmas," heavily laced with irony. And there is the ultimate question: "What happened?" -- meaning when and how did these artists' dreams go so wrong? (There are occasional comic bits, too, as when the sculptor angrily douses the bust he has carved in water, and the sculpture promptly spits right back.)

The accrual of hallucinatory images with the quality of both film noir and contemporary ballet is mesmerizing throughout. But the style is invariably more intriguing than the substance. Nearly 25 years old (and with an international reputation), Teatr Cogitatur seems a bit stuck in avant-garde cliches of decades past. It will be interesting to see if its second production, "Aztec Hotel" (the tale of creatures from a different world who land on Earth and are given a chance at human life), has something fresh to say. It opens Aug. 19 (with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and 7 p.m. Sundays) and will run in rotating repertory with "La Luna"