Beginner's luck

Erik Ehn's new work succeeds, but it requires a leap of faith

Graciela's mom and dad sing of the city they are trying to leave.
Outside our city is a city on fire
We live there
You can't drink the water or breathe the air
Cook millet over human feces
Heart spitted on a wire
Outside our city is a city on fire.

Beginner is filled with these kind of simple, poetic songs, so much so it could be classified a musical. When the material gets too tough to chew on, the repetition within the songs or lyric poems helps to drive a point or image home. Other times the songs act as dramatic emphases.

The "Mine" play is ultimately chilling and sad. In one of a series of drownings, the father drowns swimming across the river. The fish leap up and take him under.

These plays, influenced by magic realism as much as surrealism, are not easy to review or describe. They are easy to get your arms around in the sense of an embrace, but not easy to summarize or interpret in the traditional sense. It is best to let Ehn's newest work wash over you. If you wish to tear it apart, you will need Jung's ghost by your side.

Yet there are ways in which Beginner is child-friendly, and could be appreciated by young, open minds. Watching it, I was reminded of Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia, Texas-style. It is not that Ehn has a hidden Catholic or religious agenda. It is that he uses the icons and images of religion as mirrors to reflect the humor, joy and devastation of our desires.

In the end, Beginner is as archetypal as a dream in which you are swimming and swimming, only to find the shore drifting further and further away. Perhaps we do not dream as we die, alone. In Ehn's world, we dream together a collective dream, a dream of heartache, fear and loss, and the tight joy of love.

Beginner runs through this weekend at Undermain's Basement Theater. For information call 747-1424.

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