Review: the ARCHIVIST Will Pack Up After This Weekend

The set for Thaddeus Phillips’s the ARCHIVIST is perhaps the most important character in this experimental, brain-dizzying work-in-progress at Buntport. Towering white columns of file boxes divide the playing area, boxing in — almost literally — the Archivist in all his magnificent and delusional loneliness.  Beyond the columns, the darkened playing space seems to stretch into infinity. Neon lights sway blankly overhead, sometimes flickering out. At the front of the stage are an old-fashioned gramophone and a movie projector — the kind where you wind the film painstakingly through reels.

This is the Archivist’s home, his hermit’s cave, his retreat — also the place that he has consciously modeled on the human brain, complete with right and left hemispheres, and areas representing the amygdala and cerebellum. He himself, he tells us, is the hippocampus — the gatekeeper, and also the organ involved with the storage of all knowledge and memory. Except, tellingly, short-term memory. Because the archive, which contains all the films in the world, is a closed system and therefore dead. The Archivist sorts the films according to an idiosyncratic system of his own.

“The brain evolved to tell us the story of ourselves,” says the voice of a narrator, and each of us is his or her own movie. Bits and pieces of scenes from films move in and out of the Archivist’s mind, and it’s no surprise to find Plato’s Allegory of the Cave coming into play — though it is a surprise to see an animated short on the allegory narrated by Orson Welles.

Phillips is one of the most creative theater artists in the country and his visits to this hometown are infrequent. The ARCHIVIST is still unfinished, and audiences have been seeing slightly different versions of it — but every version is bound to be illuminating.

The Archivist, presented by Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, has two performances left: at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 16. Tickets are $15 ($10 students); call 720-946-1388 or go to For more information on Thaddeus Phillips, visit

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman