Mugwumpin’s ‘Great Big Also’ is a utopian challenge 

click to enlarge Mugwumpin’s “The Great Big Also” takes on, but doesn’t deeply explore, philiosphical societal issues. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Mugwumpin’s “The Great Big Also” takes on, but doesn’t deeply explore, philiosphical societal issues.

The adventurous Mugwumpin’s new production, “The Great Big Also,” has a lot going for it: an intriguing title; an eight-member ensemble with all the requisite vocal, movement and emotive skills; a potentially rich premise; and an imaginative setup.

A performer, or “New Settler,” ushers you into the cavernous Z Space, explaining that you’re in a “practice” place for an “informational meeting.” A group of believers has come together, you’re told, to prepare to establish a utopian community after an anticipated seismic shift, or “rift,” which will result in another “plane of existence.”

You and a few other audience members are seated in one of the interconnected, open-topped, white-paper cubicles (scenic design by Sean Riley) that are arranged on a playing area-sized platform. You can peer through your cubicle’s two doorways and two portholes.

Overheard, from Z’s high catwalks, various Settlers proclaim the cult’s philosophy. (You won’t be staying in this cubicle for the whole performance.)

You’re told that the construct called America has let you down, and that the New Settlers’ parallel America will fulfill all the promises it makes.

You’re warned of the signals of the coming rift. Performers rush in and out of your cubicle, pausing to advise and inform you. They also march and dance in odd, presumably symbolic gestures around the periphery of the platform, singing, chanting, shouting seemingly random numbers, talking to one another and to the audience.

You can hear only some of the chatter. A dramatic and varied soundscore by Theodore Hulsker, sometimes ominous, accompanies the action. Lights, by Andrew Packard, go from bright to dim, and, in a wonderfully disorienting moment, your cubicle walls drop away.

If it sounds chaotic, it is. At 80-plus minutes, it’s also too long. You might, at various times, feel vulnerable — or confused, bemused, amused, tired or bored.

But we’re never challenged emotionally or intellectually. The performers, in this group-devised show directed by Christopher W. White, interact with the audience only on a superficial level.

And the Settlers never emerge as individuals, nor do their interactions among themselves develop in a comprehensible way.

There’s much talk of “vibrational frequencies” and breakdown of language and lost memories and “mega-Lotto” and “accessing the sublime,” but the concepts are vague, and ultimately the question remains: What’s it all in service of? The trappings are imaginative, but textually, it doesn’t add up to much.

The Great Big Also

Presented by Mugwumpin and Z Space

  • Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes March 24
  • Tickets: $25 to $30
  • Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.zspace.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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