Rorschach Theatre's 'Brainpeople'

Actors, from left, Monalisa Arias, Regina Aquino and Amanda Thickpenny rehearse a scene from
Actors, from left, Monalisa Arias, Regina Aquino and Amanda Thickpenny rehearse a scene from "Brainpeople" at the Rorschach Theatre. (By Jenny Mcconnell Frederick)
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By Chris Klimek
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 26, 2009

When Catherine Tripp saw Rorschach Theatre's haunting and surreal production of José Rivera's "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot" in 2007, she didn't soon forget it. And when the opportunity arose for her to direct another Rivera play for the ambitious young troupe, she jumped at the chance.

The post-apocalyptic "Brainpeople," which runs through July 26 at the Davis Lab Theatre at Georgetown University, offers up a hellish but plausible vision of the near future familiar from such dystopian sci-fi flicks as "Soylent Green" and "Children of Men." In it, a mysterious and possibly schizophrenic heiress living in war-torn Los Angeles sends her armored limo to collect two women she is paying to join her for a meal of endangered tiger flesh. The occasion? The anniversary of her parents' death, which she observes with a bizarre banquet every year.

So to recap: Urban bedlam. Multiple personalities. Tiger buffet. Dead parents.

Bring the kids!

"Some people read it and don't find it as hopeful as I do," Tripp, 36, says with a chuckle. "But I think it's an incredibly hopeful play."

Rivera's poetic language and his magical realist sensibility were what lured Tripp to the project. Rivera has written more than a dozen plays, two of which have won the prestigious Obie Award. His screenplay for the 2004 film "The Motorcycle Diaries" was nominated for an Oscar.

As Tripp sees it, both the grim setting and the odd dramatic situation of "Brainpeople" are merely avenues to examine a psychological state. "They turn up the volume on that sense of aloneness and disconnect," she says. "That panic of being trapped and alone -- of everyone being in the same situation but no one can talk about it."

Getting "Brainpeople" on its feet was an intellectually rigorous exercise, Tripp says.

"We spent a good part of the first week just reading it really slowly and making sure we all understood where we wanted to take these characters," she recalls.

As table reads and discussion gave way to rehearsing scenes, layers of meaning that had eluded her on the page became evident. But Rivera's dense, prismatic play remained impervious to simple classification.

"If you name a genre, I could probably say, 'Yeah, there's an element of that,' " Tripp says. "It's about love and heartache. Isn't that the story of most art?"

Brainpeople Rorschach Theatre at Georgetown's Davis Lab Theatre, 37th and O streets NW. 800-494-8497. Through July 26. $21.50, with pay-what-you-can preview tickets available at the door tonight and Saturday.

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