No one expects to see a polished artwork in a theatre series focused on new works in development, as does The Process Series (a program of Carolina Performing Arts) at UNC-CH. But one does have a not-unreasonable expectation that the work being presented will be further along than the embryonic, featureless sketches that were offered under the title Harvesting Pomegranate Dreams in the Historic Playmakers Theatre.
Not only was this piece not ready for prime time, it wasn’t even enough of a piece to be ready for outsider eyes. The purpose of The Process Series is to support theater artists “in the throes” of making new work, and to “illuminate the creative process for students and community members.” This is a wonderful program with admirable aims, but the arrow fell short here.
Harvesting Pomegranate Dreams was conceived by Tori Ralston, founder of The Theater of Performing Objects, and was co-written by her and Rob Hamilton, designer and technical director for the Performance Studies program at UNC-CH. They were assisted in the manifestation by film and video makers Jim Havercamp and Alex Maness, and by Lawruh Lindsey, who often keeps the troops in line as stage manager in local theaters, but who here used her design and puppetry skills. Ralston makes fascinating objects, but the presentation on the 16th gave no indication of writing skills or the ability construct a dramatic sequence.
Even more shocking was the murky imagery. It did not qualify as dream-like, let alone allow us to get to some archetypal level of perception, as the artist’s statement in the program indicated to be her intent. The best moments came before the show began, when one could see through a scrim the well-cut figures that would be used in the shadow puppetry, neatly lined up on a hanging rod. Once the action began (I never could discern the intent or story of the first section) one could not see anything clearly, due to badly conceived “artistic” lighting that doubled and blurred all it touched and made the bodies of the puppeteers (who persisted in a boring sway-and-swoop throughout, to a mix of uncredited Middle Eastern music) more noticeable than the puppets.
Following this, Rob Hamilton read, badly, a very long story about a starving girl who steals what turns out to be a magic pomegranate. In the mouth of an accomplished storyteller, with vocal skills, it might have been captivating, but how it could be translated, further along in the process of development, into puppetry, was not at all clear. The only visual that accompanied the story was a black and white projection of a still photo of camels that was made to “move” forward and backward with soporific effect.
There was more, but it was much of a muchness. Outside the theater, spring’s unfolding process revealed dreams and archetypes with a perfection the artists might want to study.