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Antenna Theater's interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan"

Wednesday, Feb 28 2001
As I drove through the deserted Presidio to see Antenna Theater's Euphor!um, I felt like I was looking for an illicit rave. When I finally entered the red-lit "opium den," complete with arches leading the way to the box office, I was convinced the play had long since begun.

Antenna Theater excels at taking theater off the stage and putting it in everyday places -- essentially placing the audience in the actors' roles. This latest offering, inspired by romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," places the audience in the poet's role, allowing them to wander in Coleridge's mind.

"Kubla Khan" has been overanalyzed and endlessly anthologized, but we know Coleridge wrote it in an opium-induced stupor. Antenna's installation imagines what this stupor looked like, and what it feels like to wander from reality into that trance and back again -- and ultimately the installation is no more real than the supposed paradise that inspired it. Euphor!um's 30-minute journey is individual and private: You enter the installation alone (one person every three minutes), and except for a "tour guide," who briefs you on your journey, you have no verbal interaction with the company members -- even as they place a helmet on you or gently hold your shoulders to keep you from catching up to the person in front of you. You hear the text of the poem and see the accompanying Coney Island-like sculptures via a trick of mirrors. Given Antenna's proven technical abilities, the troupe could be faulted for using decidedly low-tech methods -- which look like papier-mâché and simple flashing lights. But the low-tech sculptures remind us of our imagination unfettered by the special effects of TV and film -- they are crude because they are real.

In past Antenna shows, you had to keep up with the audio; now, using MP3 technology, the Walkman's beacon is triggered by your location, which seamlessly matches the audio text (and other sound effects) with the visual images. But these effects are fleeting: They don't really add up to anything more than a fun-house experience, which is precisely the point. Antenna has given the audience Coleridge's artistic process: The "decompression chamber" at the end of the journey focuses only on the text, and, like the poet, we can choose what images to remember, or create our own.

About The Author

Karen McKevitt


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