TECHNO-THEATER is here in the stunning, stimulating "Social Amnesia," a complex collage of live performance, electronic sound and startlingly beautiful imagery. It is a potent call to individual political action, written and performed by the six-member Impossible Theater of Baltimore, which has been likened to "political MTV."
At Baird Auditorium Friday and Saturday, the show's constant flow of evolving and dissolving images, involving more than 2,400 coordinated light and sound cues, plays tricks with perspective like a Robert Wilson spectacle at fast-forward. Ironically, though the Impossibles decry dehumanization, the actors are at times overpowered by their own high-tech tools.
Derived from historian Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," with additional thoughts from Helen Keller, Jack London, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Camus and others, "Social Amnesia" argues that governments train citizens to covet wealth and accept deplorable living conditions and atrocities as "necessary prices to pay for progress." Then it urges its audience to do something about it.
The cavalcade begins with an image of a ruined Tower of Babel and a parable of a lost city of people who ignore warnings and are led off a cliff by their leaders. To an insistent, echoed rhythm, Sioux chieftain Black Elk warns his people: "Christopher Columbus is on the horizon / He's a brand new breed of businessman . . . He wants to poison you with smallpox blankets . . . He wants to sell you the Used World." "Put your ear to the ground," Black Elk says, or "you'll do the Ghost Dance."
We also hear from Mary, a homeless woman, who, against a startlingly realistic backdrop of Washington streets and sounds, explains how she "fell" from success, disoriented and disowned.
And the future is heard from on a newscast: A teen cult called the Auto-Lemmings has sprouted, its alienated young disciples flinging themselves under moving cars to protest the oppressive Permanent Wartime Economy.
The Impossibles posit that people react to an increasingly alienating world in three ways: becoming blindly obedient; claiming "outsider" status; or rebelling. It's clear who they side with -- "Amnesia" ends with an impressive testimony to people like the Greenham Common women and Steven Biko who have done something, the idea being that society's only hope lies with the individual.
SOCIAL AMNESIA -- Impossible Theater of Baltimore at Baird Auditorium (Museum of Natural History), presented by the Smithsonian Resident Associates and District Curators, through Saturday. Call 357-3030.