Earth in Trance

A smart play with a strikingly capable cast, Earth in Trance packs on cultural reference after cultural reference, eventually spinning out of its own plotline and into provocative, captivating chaos.

There is a wall in Brooklyn that is covered in graffiti, splattered with the following phrase: “I asked for paté. I suffered. I asked for paté.”

In many ways, this small patch of scrawl accurately sums up the action of Earth in Trance, written and directed by the Brazilian visionary Gerald Thomas and playing at La MaMa through December 30th.

The sixty-minute play, performed by Brazil’s Dry Opera Theater Company, is set in a mercurial singer’s dressing room as she waits to go onstage and perform the role of Isolde in Wagner’s opera. To help pass the time and soothe her nerves, the Actress (played by a comely and lingerie-clad Fabiana Gugli) drinks, pops pills, and talks to her only confidante in this world, the Swan (brought to life by the engaging and duck-billed arm of puppeteer Juliano Antunes and voiced by the wonderfully apathetic Gen X intonations of Seth Powers).

Early on, a driving theme of the play is set forth – how crazy is ‘crazy’ in a world as upside-down as our own? As the Actress coddles and feeds her Swan with an ASPCA affection quickly undercut by the her admission that she intends to fatten him to make foie gras, we learn that crazy is just another word for nothing left to lose.

And just like that, the humor of the play is revealed – Earth in Trance is rooted solely in the absurdity of the modern world, calling on current events and 21st century hot topics ranging from goose liver controversy to Rumsfeld’s departure to Foley’s fast-typing fingers to the O-Zone layer, all to furnish jokes for characters so completely out of their minds that the Actress can only conclude, “We are inside the head of George W. Bush.”

Gerald Thomas is no stranger to the absurd, having worked with Beckett and both directed and adapted many of the quintessentially existentialist playwright’s works. Thomas repeatedly references both Beckett and his absurdist contemporaries throughout Earth in Trance, turning the play into a sort of inside joke for any theater buff or drama major. We’re even told how Godot got his name, why Pinter so loves the sound of silence, and the many frustrations encountered when trying to simultaneously follow the Stanislavski method and flirt with fellow performers. This is a smart play, no doubt about it, and it quite obviously knows its genre well.

However, as smart as Earth in Trance is, it seems to get so mired in its cultural references that the play can’t take a step towards defining, let alone resolving, its own action. Earth in Trance goes everywhere and nowhere at once, and while Gugli is quite something, tearing up monologue after monologue onstage (as she well should, considering Thomas wrote the play for her) and Antunes’ and Powers’ joint performance is altogether fascinating, Earth in Trance spins so quickly around so many issues that it throws itself entirely out of orbit.

Earth in Trance packs quite a punch, indeed, but at the end of the hour, one wonders a bit what all the blows were for. Still, the show is worth seeing for anyone interested in the future of Absurdist Theater in a post-post-modern, hyper-paradoxical world. After all, there are far worse things that being barraged with smart ideas, even if they don’t come with a side of paté.