Death. Cameras. The misdeeds of a shadowy Norwegian shipping magnate. These areas of interest unite three damaged characters in the intriguingly enigmatic production “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears,” by Norway’s Winter Guests theater company.
Performed in English, in front of white walls that serve as screens for projected video, text and photography, this stylish piece toys with thriller-style suspense as it ponders how humans cope with an awareness of mortality. Part of the Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 festival, the production is making its U.S. premiere with two performances, Feb. 20 and 21, at the Terrace Theater.
Written by Alan Lucien Øyen and Andrew Wale, and directed by Øyen, “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears” kicks off with a burst of energy: An impish teenager, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, is talking a mile-a-minute about the ancient Mayans, Justin Bieber, the devil and other matters. The rush of words, we gradually realize, is part of a video blog maintained by the boy, a manically cheerful HIV-positive prostitute (Huy Le Vo).
In subsequent monologues and two-person scenes, we meet two older characters. One is a terminally ill, gay businessman who’s desperate for companionship (Wale). The other (Yvonne Øyen) is a quiet photographer who, in the aftermath of her young son’s death, has thrown herself into conceptual art projects. When the businessman entices the boy into an ongoing relationship — a relationship the older man documents online — it becomes obvious that each of the protagonists is constructing a virtual reality, a substitute for a real life filled with loss.
Luminously lit and shadowed by lighting designer Torkel Skjærven, the set’s roomy configurations of rotating walls and empty space emphasize the characters’ loneliness. Sometimes, close-circuit camera footage of a character will splay across a wall while the individual is talking a few feet away, and the double image seems to comment on the digitally mediated self-consciousness that is a byproduct of the Internet era.
At other times, projections on the walls evoke places: a subway station, a nightclub, a museum exhibiting the Jacques-Louis David painting “The Death of Marat.” (Martin Flack and Alan Lucien Øyen designed the set and video; Gunnar Innvær designed the subway-platform noises and other sound effects.) Occasionally, projected text conjures up instant message conversations. But the assured actors hold their own amidst the multimedia. Øyen’s photographer exudes weary sadness; Vo’s adolescent prostitute is all keyed-up confidence; and Wale’s businessman is interestingly nervous, often shifting his weight from leg to leg, or looking away from the camera.
Adding a tinge of Scandinavian noir to the tale are the characters’ allusions to a shipping tycoon who may, or may not, be responsible for the death of the prostitute’s father. Just how real is a rumor-entwined figure like the tycoon? How real is any person separated from us by space, or cyberspace, or death? As the play builds to its bracingly ambiguous conclusion, the answer remains elusive: In “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears,” the medium is the message, but also the mystery.
Wren is a freelance writer.
written by Alan Lucien Øyen and Andrew Wale; directed by Øyen. Part of Nordic Cool 2013. About two and a half hours. At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, through Feb. 21. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.