Stage: Artifacts of Consequence

Whom would you save: Salinger or Huey Lewis?

Satori Group's sharp new production of Ashlin Halfnight's Artifacts of Consequence is like the Coen brothers meets Woody Allen's Sleeper. It's also a sweet, bizarre mash-up of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Thornton Wilder, and Huey Lewis and the News.With little more than suggestion and an underground-bunker set that looks like a Soviet-era medical facility in decline, Halfnight's dreamscape imagines a world where food is catalogued rather than eaten. Its inhabitants are slowly starving to death because there aren't enough meal-replacement pills to go around. And guess what? This dreary-sounding scenario is more engrossing than any Hollywood blockbuster of the past four months. Not only is Artifacts a more visceral experience, but it's interactive, too: We in the audience get to decide what's worth archiving in this bleak future-world and what gets literally flushed away. Some audiences get to vote on Hula-Hoops and other cultural detritus. We chose between a Polaroid camera (save it, we voted), and a single Converse All-Star lace-up (we passed).As the play begins, supervisor Minna (Lindsey Valitchka) is striving valiantly to keep her facility running despite the stresses of too little food, too much work, and no real signs of help. Nubile Ari (Adrienne Clark) is supposed to be pitching in, but she's a bit of a dreamer, utterly hypnotized by the lost culture she can contemplate only by endlessly rerunning old VHS copies of Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing.Their drudgery is interrupted by occasional visits from Dallas (Alex Matthews), a fellow charged by "The Department" with collecting artifacts for review by a panel of judges (i.e., us). Unfortunately, the one thing Minna really needs is FRPs—the Food Replacement Pills keeping everyone in the facility alive. (Actual food is being stored for future use outside the bunker.)Things go from bad to worse with the arrival of Theo (Spike Friedman), a lost soul who provides just the sexual distraction that Ari's been daydreaming about for so long. Frustrations, pheromonal and otherwise, mount until the inevitable snap occurs. Artifacts' denouement, with its themes of duty and discontent, recall the mental collapse that led to the recent Fort Hood massacre, though the play was first performed in New York this spring.In terms of production, I haven't seen a better, more well-rounded cast this year. Not only are the principals a treat to watch, but a kind of Greek chorus of actors is intermittently trotted out from seclusion to demonstrate the merits of one artifact or another—be it a speech from Our Town or an old Broadway show tune. They're creepy, robotic ciphers who come to life only on command to sing, dance, and perform impeccably. Their renderings are uncanny, too perfect, and they scare the bejesus out of us.Andrew Lazarow stages the action throughout with precision and economy—although Halfnight's text makes its point a good half-hour before the play actually concludes. Deanna Zibello's set is a thing of eerie beauty. Combined with Monty Taylor's lighting and Julian Mesri's soundscapes, the effect is like sitting too close to an IMAX David Cronenberg flick. Artifacts doesn't so much grab you as suck you in. Before you know it, you're part of this sinking ship of humanity. And if you can't save yourself, how about that first edition of Catcher in the Rye?Save Salinger if you must. But did you know Huey Lewis and the News had 19 top-10 hits?

 
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