Thaddeus Phillips, who visits Buntport every year or so, is one of the most interesting theatrical forces around. His Lucidity Suitcase offers proof that all you need for great theater is creativity, imagination and performers with guts, talent and integrity — performers like Tatiana Mallarino and Phillips himself.

Phillips approaches art from odd and unexpected angles and with complete conviction, rendering his socio-political observations with a beguiling playfulness. He's profoundly curious about differing cultures and how they interact, fascinated with liminal places such as airports and oceans, interested in how we get from one country, reality or state of mind to another. He has a genius for re-thinking Shakespeare, and in the past has given us The Tempest in a kiddie pool and a one-man King Lear in which all the characters were played by inanimate objects. In response to the invasion of Iraq, he staged Henry 5 Live From Times Square, with the French and English armies represented by toy soldiers. His shows utilize all kinds of low-tech but high-concept tricks that tell us something about the process of making theater itself, even while it's being made. Right now, he's in the process of making THE MeLTING BRiDgE which is set for a premiere in Philadelphia in September and in previews at Buntport — but it's nowhere near ready for an audience.

BRiDgE bites off a huge chunk of subject matter. Phillips is looking at the environmental crises we face and the contradictions inherent in the way we live, and questioning our very ability to continue surviving on our fragile blue planet. In search of answers, he explores the settling of the Americas and the continent's ancient civilizations, noting that the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on December 21, 2012. On one level, at least, the melting bridge is the Bering Strait, the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska supposedly traveled by the migrants from Asia who first populated this continent less than 20,000 years ago. Some Native American scholars question this version of history; scientists have discovered all kinds of anomalies in the narrative. And as global warming melts the ice of the Arctic and environmentalists worry, nations squabble about who owns the natural resources being uncovered and the new sea routes.

In Phillips's play, a business executive who works for a paper company learns that his father has vanished — but not before leaving him a cryptic scroll and a phone message exhorting him to open himself to differing forms of reality. What follows is an archetypal transformative hero's journey, as the executive finds himself on subway platforms, traversing rivers, snowshoeing through Arctic snowdrifts and periodically encountering an enigmatic guide. The snowdrifts are simply an artfully deployed sheet; the scenery is provided via video images on a large screen.

There's always an element of the inexplicable in Lucidity Suitcase's work: scenes, images and symbols that require you to connect the dots and allow your own imagination to fill in meaning. After all, if words alone could do justice to an idea, why make theater of it? But there's too much left unsaid in this production, too much that's vague and amorphous, and the semi-mystical elements — Mallarino waving her two feather dusters, for example — feel (and I hate to say this) almost silly. It doesn't help that the video images are fuzzy, or that many of the subtitles are made unreadable by a glaring lightbulb. Of course, there are some wonderfully effective scenes, too: Phillips seated on the deck of a slow-moving boat with the video used so effectively that your own body seems to sway with the water; a wonderfully funny wrestling match featuring Brian Colonna.

This show's ambitions go deep. And while at this point I can't tell if THE MeLTING BRiDgE will come together into something purely brilliant, or sputter out in a welter of half-realized and insufficiently-thought-through effects, I do know that with Lucidity Suitcase, it's always worth sticking around to find out.

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