The Disintegration Loops advertises Ancient Greek tragedy meeting commedia dell’arte meeting modern drama and asks can commedia do tragedy? That may depend somewhat on how one defines commedia dell’arte, but on this showing, elements of broad comedy can certainly morph into moments of emotional truth. Clowning has this dual aspect and that is really what Dark Hills Productions taps into here.
As a community centre is about to be demolished, those who use it seek to put on a play – The Tragedy of Agamemnon – for a final farewell, lead by Pearl, a lady with a dark secret. In the offices of the company taking over the site, Charlie deals with his own devils, including a voice that haunts him. As their stories come together, various strongly voiced and physicalised characters – all with generic masks painted – have their moments in the spotlight.
Use is made of lighting that highlights and shades situations and players, a soundtrack that is one continuous wavelike minor drone that comes into focus in quieter moments, and voiced sound effects provided by the company to help create some excellent mimes.
As the play proceeds further from its comic beginnings, at one point characters actually look at each other while speaking for a dramatic scene, where always elsewhere they speak to the audience directly and then turn to look at the character they have been addressing. This change in delivery is not made into anything of note and may have been even more powerful if kept in line with the rest of the audience addresses – really showing that such comedy conventions can be used for tragedy.
The ingenuity displayed in the introductions to characters, very clearly comic with hints of deep matters to be tackled, does not continue throughout, and some loss is felt with this, particularly in Pearl’s story. Charlie, however, keeps his extreme physicality while his painful story unfolds and what was comic becomes poignantly tragic while retaining the same characteristics throughout.
The Disintegration Loops does not use stock commedia dell’arte characters and its Greek elements in presentation are not woven into the playing. However, as the character stories loop around each other, and early fronts disintegrate, tragic tales are told with comic characteristics and told to dramatic effect, with shadowed joy developing into light-touched pain as a talented group of players share their creations.