Head in the Clouds
For Denver's acclaimed Curious Theatre Company, there's no such thing as winding down a season. If anything, the troupe's finale at the Acoma Center, José Rivera's Cloud Tectonics, has artistic director Chip Walton flying sky-high on a wave of the same magic realism that drives Rivera's lyrical play, a timeless fable about a perpetually pregnant woman who literally stops time whenever she walks in a room. Walton is hoping that each performance of the play, which opens this Saturday at 8 p.m., will make time stop in the Acoma Center, as well.
"It's very theatrical," says Walton, who first saw the play in an early production in New York. Cloud Tectonics never left his mind afterward: "From the minute I walked out of the theater, I knew it was a piece I wanted to do. Why I sat on it for so long, I don't know. It's always been at top of my list. It's beautiful, lyrical, magical -- it's all the things that I love about live theater. This is not the movies; it's not TV. It's something that engages the imagination in a way those things can't."
His opportunity finally cropped up in the form of the company's Curious Cultural Initiative, an annual commitment to stage one production each season that deals with experiences unique to a particular culture. (Last year, August Wilson's Fences filled the slot.) With Cloud Techtonics, Curious Theatre's aim is to create cultural bridges that work both ways. "There are a lot of inherent questions in the play, couched in cultural terms," Walton says. "It asks us subtly to re-examine our inherited assumptions about things, like how time works, or what love is, or what kind of power does language hold." Tectonics, he notes, has the power to "challenge some of those assumptions of our audiences, and I hope it will also get some audience members into Acoma that otherwise might not have come."
To that end, Curious chose to open the play on the same weekend as Denver's Cinco de Mayo celebration, which takes place in Civic Center Park, just a few blocks from the theater. In addition, the company will host a fundraising performance for LARASA, a nonprofit service organization for the local Latino community, on May 18, complete with music, food and a reception (tickets start at $50; call the Acoma Center box office for more information).
The culturally rooted magic realism in Cloud Tectonics not only binds it to the Latino community, but also serves as a unique dramatic device. For Walton, it is the unknown quotient that makes the play soar. "It's been challenging to get my hands around that style," he says. "It's easy in literature, where the written word evocatively triggers the imagination, but on stage, you've gotta do it." The play's many technical challenges -- such as how to make a bed fly in mid-air, or how to make it rain, which it does frequently in Rivera's tale -- required a bit of directorial legerdemain. Walton solved the precipitation problem by creating "rain walls," self-contained units with water inside them.
But even Curious Theatre's intrepid tech crew didn't try to tangle with a central character for whom time doesn't exist (to the point where clocks switch off when she walks in and switch on when she leaves). Fortunately, the La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California has made a business out of shipping out the system of electronically rigged clocks they invented for their own production several years ago to companies all over the country -- Curious included.
The point of all of this, one supposes, is to stretch the imagination by making things happen in real time that you never thought possible. And doing that is an act akin to unscrambling one of Walton's favorite lines in the play: It's "like trying to understand the anatomy of the wind or the architecture of silence or cloud tectonics." Sometimes all you need to do is believe in magic.
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