Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The problem with "Moments in the Life of the Prodigal Son," the "surrealistic spectacle" being offered through tonight at the Washington Project for the Arts by the Attic Theater, is somehow one of syntax. The parts are intriguing, but the parts never cohere into an intelligible vhole.
"Moments" is a non-realistic, semi-improvisational playet in a ritualistic mold. The piece evolved from workshops conducted at WPA over the past year by the new, Washington-based Attic Theater, under the direction of Marianne Marcellin, who worked in the past with Jerzy Grotowski in Paris. Later this month, "Moments" will be staged at New York's La MaMa, ETC.
The title of the work suggests the theme, but one could hardly gather this from the work itself. There is a character who appears, sometimes, to be a father. There is another who could be a errant son. There are several other men and women whose identities remain obscure. Encounters take place, words were spoken, flickers of love and jealousy and fear appear, but all remains cryptic.
Some lines of dialogue recur cyclically, like musical refrains. There are sporadic, mysterious daubs of music (by Larry Massett) and movable wood screens maneuvered by the actors. The whole thing is like a self-created myth, minus the clear moral and narrative intend of mythology.
What lends the work an air of distinction is the surety and rapport of the actors - the spectator may not know what they're up to, but they do. There is a seriousness of purpose here, and a stylistic discipline, which command attention.
What bothers is not the opacity of literal meanings - Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk and others have used similarly abstract, incantatory elements, with great impact - but the lack of central action, concept or transformation. Still, this is a beginning, and it will be interesting to see where the Attic Theater goes from here.