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Theater Review: Collaboraction's Siddhartha Project

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 4, 2007 8:50PM

allofit_2007_10.JPGFive observations about The Siddhartha Project, Collaboraction’s premiere adaptation of Herman Hesse’s coming-of-age classic, reinterpreted by 5 writers in 5 acts.

1 Staging Hesse’s tale of a gifted boy's self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment in Lumen, a fun, not terribly pretentious nightclub and creative space, seems stranger than locating said club down the block from a meatpacking plant. Commissioning five writers to reinterpret the tale in five eras is as risky as it is ambitious, as differences in quality become quickly apparent

2 Acts 3 and 4 — J. Nicole Brooks’ story of Siddhartha’s maturation in 1920s Harlem, and Stephen Cone’s dark comedy about a film director navigating the apocalypse — are the night’s most inventive and enjoyable. Each realizes the potential of the performance space and effortlessly brings snippets of Hesse’s original dialogue to vibrant new settings. Acts 1 and 2 — Emily Schwartz’s glorified after-school special about the star quarterback leaving Lake Forest High to tour California, and Sean Graney’s disembodied accounts of a rape — just don’t click. The first feels too conventional for the space; the second belongs to a different show entirely. Siddhartha and Govinda’s Act 5 reunion is moving, but this is due more to the staging and effects than the script.

cutto_2007_10.JPG3 Despite the gimmicks and unique atmosphere, Siddhartha Project’s best moments are its most theatrical, elevated by its finest performances. One is Will Clinger's film director losing his grip in an apocalyptic America, whose unshakable faith and vanity is hilarious and oddly inspiring. Another is the major heat generated by Brandon Miller and TayLar playing Siddhartha and Lady Kamala's courtship.

4 Reading the book helps but isn’t necessary. Unless you hate Hesse with a passion, you shouldn’t let the title drive you away.

5 The Lumen space, with its excellent sound system and hypnotic lighting effects, is a strong supporting character of sorts. Be advised the sight lines vary wildly and the couches are made for patrons taller than 6 feet. Try to arrive early and snag a spot on those couches closest to the stage, close enough to feel the actors breathing on you. When you can, shift to the bar or the window seats to broaden your perspective.

The Siddhartha Project is at Lumen, 839 W Fulton Market, Thursdays – Sundays, 7 p.m. through October 14. Tickets are $18-25. More information at Collaboraction’s website.

Photos by Michael Brosilow