Watching Carl Hancock Rux's multimedia "Mycenaean," which came and went Thursday and Friday night in a promising premiere engagement at the National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditorium, was like being submerged in a dense otherworldly swirl. It was definitely apocalyptic, definitely dreamy and deliberately indefinite in just about every other way.
In an hour-long piece that managed to be psychedelic yet not the least bit trippy (it was way too sober-minded for that), "Mycenaean" surged into a nether region of dreams and wakefulness, past and future, finding a kind of timeless warlike hell. It's hard not to think in Rux's rhythms when you emerge from the show; "Mycenaean" is largely rhythm, powered by the amorphous, intriguing vibe of Rux's pulsing music and poetry, augmented by choreographed movement and an endless stream of video imagery. There's a story in there somewhere about the motion of history, but it develops slowly and never quite gets all the way out of the pea soup of mood. "Mycenaean" is a brooding philosophical landscape.
Rux is a man of many disciplines; he's cut a few CDs, written an Obie-winning play ("Talk"), published some poetry and a novel ("Asphalt," part of which is the basis of "Mycenaean") and recently turned out a rangy, well-reported piece on black theater for American Theatre magazine. In "Mycenaean," Rux acts, directs, writes and, with Jaco van Schalkwyk, created the music and sound design. Yet the piece feels very much like a team effort.
Rux, whose speaking voice has the rumbling sweetness of Barry White's, manages to come off as just one of the ensemble, a smallish Everyman in rumpled black and white, gliding around the stage in ritualized movement devised by Christalyn Wright (one of Rux's four co-stars). Even van Schalkwyk, whose vaporous end-of-civilization video installation fills a large screen behind the performers, is a noteworthy presence, a technical wizard fiddling with knobs as he crouches over a vast electronics console on one side of the stage. (He eventually breaks into semi-spiritual, semi-mechanical choreography that reminds one of David Byrne in his Talking Heads days.) What's happening has to do with cultural decay -- the Mycenaean fall intersecting with a modern decline. Rux plays a returning soldier and DJ, but even saying that much, in that way, makes the show sound far more literal than it is. Rux gives you mere clues about who and where, then gets surprising mileage from jazz/R&B grooves and loaded Beat poetry phrases that, in a very eccentric way, move things forward.
"He was coming from, and I was walking toward," goes one of Rux's haunted refrains, and a strange empathy wells up around the chanted sentence "The dead are not absent." War in Iraq? Race in America? Rux touches the buttons, or at least encourages the audience to free-associate within his liquid framework. But nothing is put forward with such irrepressible clarity or vigor that you feel Rux is trying to give you a single urgent idea to take home; it's a show that dwells far more in the funk of question than in the force of answer. As one of the characters declares, it's less a matter of sticking with reality than a case of "living in the poem."