Dancing About Architecture
by Michael J. Bordenaro
It has been cynically noted that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Yes, it can be complicated and difficult to express the beauty and passion of one art form through another. But when it works—ahhh!
There was a big "ahhh!" in Chicago this past summer.
Director and playwright Mary Zimmerman, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, staged her play, "Eleven Rooms of Proust," in a 90,000-square-foot (8400-square-meter), temporarily vacant manufacturing facility on the city's north side.
Produced in conjunction by About Face and Lookingglass theaters in association with the Goodman Theater, the play is a haunting presentation of critical scenes from Marcel Proust's revolutionary 3,000-page novel, "Remembrance of Things Past."
Presenting glimpses of the lead character, Swann, growing from youth through adulthood with the aid of narrators, multimedia sound, stunning costumes, and above all an always-powerful use of space, Zimmerman achieved what the Wall Street Journal called a "65-minute theatrical miracle."
Wrought with intriguing ambiguity, stunning metaphorical imagery, psychological insinuation, and distorted links of time and memory, the experience was in many ways similar to watching an opera performed in an unknown language. You don't have to know it, you can feel it.
What you could feel was Proust's agonizing struggle to find and understand the true love and beauty in life. With the assistance of Dan Ostling on scenery, John Culbert on lighting, Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman on sound, and Mara Blumenfeld on costumes, Zimmerman not only successfully expressed her love for the beauty of Proust's words. She also showed an architect's love for the manufacturing facility that was her stage.
By physically moving the audience through 11 elegantly minimalist sets placed throughout the facility, Zimmerman powerfully fulfilled every building's unwritten architectural program—to create a wonderful space to celebrate life.
The play "Eleven Rooms of Proust" was set in a large Chicago manufacturing facility. The vacant factory was ingeniously fit with 11 stages, such as this warehouse used in a scene expressing the painstaking desire for the purity of art.
Photo: Liz Lauren
Extraordinary lighting, complexly rewarding spatial relationships and thoughtful staging contributed to a higher architectural experience than expected from the sum of the manufacturing facility's parts.
Photo: Liz Lauren
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