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Pebble-and-Cart Cycle: one-line tragedies Warehouse – Mainstage

Remaining Performance: Sunday, July 19 @ 4:15 pm

They say: A woman battles a fly. Father has a horse attack. Brother turns into a goat. The Pebble-and-Cart Cycle unveils a spellbinding journey where folk legend, animal archetype and personal experience weave together to expose the theater of inner conflict.

Chris says:Two thoughts are jostling in my mind for attention. The first is that the Pebble-and-Cart Cycle is easily the best thing I’ve seen in two years of Fringe blogging. Happiness! The second is that there were only 14 people in the audience at the beginning, dwindling to 10 even before the intermission and 6 after the intermission. Despair!

True, there are no casual satisfactions to be gleaned from this work. There is neither comfort in watching a known story, nor ease in grasping a new one. So I understand why the defectors left. The fact that they did speaks volumes, however, about the state of both theater and audiences in the District. This being a city of institutions, we are surrounded by pimped-out art palaces that offer the most run-of-the-mill stuff in the most conventional productions. For heaven’s sake, even Woolly Mammoth—which I like more than any other theater in town—pretends that new equals daring.

There are production values, and there are the productions I value. In this town, the production values are ample, but it’s unusual for work like this to catch my imagination.

The Pebble-and-Cart Cycle tells (I use that term loosely) three stories, each, as best I can tell, derived from Russian folklore. The first of these—”Moocha: I have a fly on my plate”—is essentially a video installation that sets the tone for the entire cycle. We see a woman at a table—think Christ at the last supper attended by none of the apostles. She swills her wine, swatting a fly with her napkin. The table shakes. The image comes apart.

The second is “Horse: I have my heart in front of me.” This segment’s more intelligible than the first, with the stage bookended by a grandfatherly man and a grandmotherly woman reading a fairy tale from oversized volumes. In the story, there’s a man, his daughter, and a horse. The daughter promises to marry the horse if he will bring the father home, but after the horse obliges, the father kills him with an arrow.

The third story, “Goat: I cannot get into my own shoe,” in one sense tells another fairy tale, but in another discusses the psychology of the difficulty of conceiving.

Does it all make sense? No. Cornell boxes don’t make sense either, but I can stare at them happily for hours.

What makes this play is not that its meanings are explicit—they aren’t—but that absolutely every detail is controlled and deliberate. In the third segment, a man sits slightly to one side, decked out in a regal ceremonial sash. He doesn’t have lines, but even seated and stationary, he’s an active piece of the action because every smile, every glance, every rhythm is intended. Later he dons goat ears. I don’t know quite what that means, but that’s not the point. I buy it because it’s a concrete choice. As David Lynch would say, there’s a difference between mystery and confusion.

The production’s complex imagery feels akin to an artful nightmare. Imagine Yul Brynner wrapped in a horse’s hide, or personified Death revealing its own pregnant belly, embroidered to display the female reproductive system. I hesitate to use the term “surrealism” to describe this play, but at its core, surrealism is about objects turning into other objects, and this performance is full of such transformations.

The idea of a fringe is to make a space for that which lies outside of the theatrical mainstream. This is exactly the sort of work for which the Capital Fringe Festival exists, and it puzzles the heck out of me that there seems to be no audience for this show, no choir for me to preach to.

See it if: You think Broadway is a great way to get to Canal Street.

Skip it if: You think Broadway is the Great White Way.