Charles Mee Texts Witness Relocation

France's Ildi! Eldi teams up with the NYC company for Heaven on Earth

Charles Mee is probably the only American playwright with his own iPhone app making his plays instantly available to anyone who wants to stage them. Mee, in turn, culls his own collages of texts from multiple literary and pop sources. Heaven on Earth, his new piece, samples history extensively. Each fragment touches, loosely, on people who find happiness despite a world ending around them—from Roman ruins to 1930s Dust Bowl and beyond. Sentimentality oozes from these scattershot musings (on the importance of love, for instance), calling for some serious dissonance from anyone devising a stage event from all this apocalyptic cheer. That challenge falls to the promising dance-theater group Witness Relocation and their French co-creators Ildi! Eldi.

Appealing performers meet weak script
Agate Elie
Appealing performers meet weak script

Details

Heaven on Earth
By Charles L. Mee
La MaMa E.T.C.
66 East 4th Street, lamama.org

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Alas, the ensemble, directed by Dan Safer, surrenders to the banal script rather than playing against it. Their irony deficiency results in a disappointingly familiar postmodern pastiche—think barefoot people in vintage eveningwear discoursing vacuously on the simple pleasures. When aggressive music disrupts such scenes, however, Safer gains traction: His choreographed sequences feel more anarchic and unpredictable—making me wonder if this appealing company might have fared better making their own apocalypse from scratch rather than using ones from Mee’s kit.

 
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Don snyder
Don snyder

eaven on My Mindby Kelly AlianooffoffonlineWhat do the atomic bomb, a girl in white attending her prom, and infomercials for seeds have in common? On the surface, it seems, nothing. Yet Heaven on Earth , written by Charles L. Mee and created by Witness Relocation and Ildi! Eldi, includes all of these elements in a consistent and a coherent way that is equal parts hilarious, thought-provoking, poignant, and joyful. This true work of art grapples with the complicated questions of what it means to be mortal in a world in which life could end, suddenly, at any moment. To summarize a specific plot in this play would be difficult and perhaps contrary to the play’s intentions. Knowing too much of what will be seen on stage also could spoil one wonderful aspect of this play: its element of surprise. Each scene, each detail included, is an unexpected treat.This play does not have a traditional structure. Essentially, it is a collage of scenes that all have something to do with the human condition and the concept of finding a “heaven on earth.” The characters contemplate a genius scientist’s notion of being uploaded into cyberspace as a form of immortality; a film is screened of a man reminiscing about his childhood during the Dust Bowl; a racecar driver discusses his recent experience in a major competition and the thrill of the race; etc. Are any of these aforementioned situations examples of heaven? Can there be joy in the worst possible circumstances? Would living forever be more wonderful than only living a short while but in that time frame having had someone’s love and having reciprocated those feelings? The direction of this piece is consistent and the collage works beautifully to riff on the themes being addressed without feeling heavy-handed or too straightforward. The piece incorporates poetic text, compelling physical movement and dance, film, technical effects, even showtunes. What could come across as a hodgepodge of elements is, rather, expertly conducted by Dan Safer. Safer, as director and choreographer, is able to cleverly counterpose text on one notion with movement or stage business meant to evoke another. The stage pictures here are sumptuous feasts for the eyes and the text is unconditionally brilliant, whether it is evoking bizarre and charming humor or presenting hard-hitting and emotional realities of what it means to be human. Mee is a true artist in his playwriting and this work is no exception. The words, full of subtle meanings, can resonate in a viewer’s head long after the play has ended. Each line of text raises important questions without providing direct, succinct answers. The actors all have great skill in how to turn a phrase, pacing their speeches with perfect timing. In addition, the movement work in this production is exquisite. All of the performers are superb in their various roles, showing their range of performance abilities. Also worth singling out is the lighting and set design by Jay Ryan. The lighting is perfectly linked to the tone of the atmosphere in each scene and the set, in its clever simplicity, is utilized ideally for a play of this nature. Heaven on Earth is a poetic reminder of the transience of human life. Despite numerous possibilities of heavens, there is no way for us to know that our advanced human civilization will even be remembered, much less that our insignificant individual lives will have made any impact. And yet, this play is a celebration of precisely that seemingly insignificant blessing known as life. Do not wait for a heaven; do not even spend your finite days searching for one. Life itself is a heaven and this play is one of life’s pleasures, not to be missed.

Heaven on Earthnytheatre.com reviewRachael Richman · February 17, 2011What a delight to spend an evening in Charles L. Mee’s Heaven on Earth playing this month at La MaMa E.T.C. Dan Safer skillfully weaves text, music, movement, video, and plenty of whimsy into this collaboration between Witness Relocation (USA) and Ilda! Eldi (Lyon, France).The world has ended and fractured life is scattered around the stage in piles of TVs, abandoned bikes, strings of raw lights, and… a ballerina. It may be the apocalypse but, after all, it’s a beautiful day. Birds are singing, fluffy clouds pass over TV screens, lost souls wander on stage in elegant clothes.Heaven on Earth is a difficult piece to sum up without feeling like I’ve left the best parts out (you really have to be there, and I recommend that you go). However, I’ll try: a bunch of earnest people struggle with some of life’s big questions, and find joy in small pleasures.Perhaps Safer says it best himself: “The world keeps ending and we are still fine. We lose sight that heaven on earth is in the tiny details. Even while you are looking at an apocalypse, you can still find a perfect moment in a cup of coffee, sitting on a beach at night, or a kitten.”Mee has compiled a collage of stories and thoughts from a myriad of sources, including: Greek Democracy, Oprah, biodiversity in seeds, and stock car racing. But part of what I loved was that text did not dominate. At some moments, words were more texture than meaning, a compound of sound and imagery alternately explosive and hypnotic.Particularly captivating are the vigorous dance sequences, choreographed by Safer. The movements are fiercely executed by the cast, and ranged from tender duets to line dancing to the simple act of smoking a cigarette.The technical design by Jay Ryan, Ryan Maeker, and Deb O is inventive and deftly integrated. In one of my favorite moments, a cast member peddles a trashed bike in the dark, slowly powering on the lights. There is such wonderful attention to detail; even a tiny wind-up music box had its moment. Kaz Phillips’s use of video is especially noteworthy, as when a man speaks of his experience as a child in the American Dust Bowl.When the cast comes together to playfully muse on nirvana, I am left with, simply, a good feeling. The world may be ending over and over, but I am among friends.

Heaven on EarthBackstageCritic’s PickReviewed by Jason FitzgeraldFEBRUARY 18, 2011An early scene in Chuck Mee’s “Heaven on Earth” cites the final act of “Our Town,” in which the ghosts of Grover’s Corners sit in chairs and calmly pass the afterlife. But while Emily Webb is horrified by her new nonexistence, Mike Mikos, the bluest-eyed member of this La MaMa ETC show’s cast, can’t wipe the smile off his face. Soon he and his fellow actors are laughing, dancing, telling stories, and performing skits on topics ranging from racecar driving to chocolate recipes to the Dust Bowl. Such is the ethos of this refreshing production, which traffics neither in Beckettian endurance nor in simple-minded hope, but in the more complicated realization that heaven is here and we have to make the most of it.The actors, drawn from the American company Witness Relocation and the French ensemble Ildi ! Eldi, are models of this existentialist vigor, throwing themselves into their choreography, savoring their romantic dances, and proclaiming, as Sophie Cattani does after her character loses her life savings, “Now I have wings!” Quick transitions from disasters to triumphs and from cynicism to sincerity—at one point the actors reluctantly start singing “Somewhere,” then stomp their feet and belt it like an anthem—suggest that our choices matter more than our destinies. Occasionally the lights go down and a volunteer leaps onto a bicycle, which produces electricity when its gears move, pumping new life into the proceedings.Under Dan Safer’s smart direction, matched in intelligence by designers Jay Ryan (sets and lights) and Deb O (costumes and props), the performance is framed by the ruins of an old-time cabaret, whose broken-down piano, dislocated footlights, excess muslin, and mismatched chairs complement the performers’ tutus, bow ties, and ruffled shirts. The conceit, an improvement over the “chunks of Roman columns” called for by the version of the script on Mee’s website, turns the need to devise new ways to entertain ourselves and others into the great challenge—and reward—of contemporary life. As one character reminds us, “After the world comes to an end, life goes on.”

Time Out magazineHeaven on EarthA new experimental play searches for paradise. By Paul Menard

Don’t be fooled by the ramshackle detritus that clutters LaMaMa’s cavernous Ellen Stewart Theater; the messiness of trashy silver Mylar curtains and precariously hung lighting booms belie a rigor beneath the postmodern pastiche of Heaven on Earth. Created by avant-garde cutups Witness Relocation, in collaboration with French experimental troupe Ildi! Eldi and collage playwright Charles Mee, this new dance-theater piece demonstrates that happiness is only a fleeting moment.

A calculated piece of dramatis interruptus, Mee’s cut-and-paste text takes a backseat to the ensemble’s ebullient onstage shenanigans. Culling from disparate sources—ancient China, genetic engineering, financial guru Suze Orman—Mee pieces together a mosaic of utopian hopes illustrating the human urge to create joy in the face of adversity. The exuberant performers string together imagistic moments: suit-and-tie clad gentlemen play an accident-prone game of croquet with human wickets, an intimate pas de deux is performed to the tinkling of a music box. Uncoincidentally, simple pleasures like basking in the sun or enjoying a warm summer evening carry the greatest weight.

Like happiness itself, these moments are ephemeral, broken off by gestural dance sequences punctuated with buoyant flicks and hops. But, as can be common with pastiche work, the production is somewhat marred by its unevenness; thankfully, Witness Relocation and Ildi! Eldi inject plenty of raucous fun into the evening’s artiness. With its avant-garde playfulness and abstract poignancy, Heaven on Earth offers a slice of postmodern paradise.

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