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Seeing things; Torn Space Theater surprises again in latest production

For Torn Space Theater playgoers, it's a given: Expect the unexpected.

Dan Shanahan's TST produces dark, edgy, controversial, sometime violent and bizarre plays that almost always perplex, accost and offend the senses, stories that stimulate and aggravate in equal measure. There's much grim, little grin.

Don't let that stop you though from chasing down a TST production. I say chase because the inventive Shanahan seeks out unusual places to present his work. The Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle is normally home base, an ancient Polish social club -- with a rich theater history -- that's clunky but adaptable; it's been hospitable to Samuel Beckett, Edgar Allan Poe and British puzzler Sarah Kane, among others.

The DNIPRO Ukrainian Center is a treasure on Genesee Street. Its magnificent ballroom and Shanahan have become odd partners. Finding TST sometimes takes a GPS.

But this time, Shanahan has outdone himself, landing at a long dormant place of worship, the former Immanuel German Evangelical Church, now the meeting house of the Theosophical Society, an organization devoted to what they call "The Three Objects" -- religion, science and philosophy -- with explorations into "the study of man, microcosms, macrocosms and the esoteric teachings of all the great religions."

"Procession," TST's latest play, could be subtitled "The Theosophical Society Meets Dan Shanahan." No surprise: It accosts, offends, perplexes, stimulates and aggravates.

Let me relate what I thought I saw:

Entering the church in the almost dark, a room emerged with a bed and an outline of a body in red -- hey, is that blood? -- the image "breathing." No, "sleeping," said a nearby, helpful specter.

The interior of the church, also dark but with sweeping patterns of light on the vaulted ceilings, soon gave way to waves of fog, accompanied by more breathing -- this because, I learned, that the space itself breathes. It's a "central character" in this story of the rituals of an unnamed society: conception, birth, union, death, led by an amorphous High Priest chanting guttural sounds, although Agnus Dei -- "Lamb of God" -- and Dominus vobiscum -- "The Lord be with you" -- were intelligible.

There is indeed a birth, complete with an aislelong umbilical cord; the newborn sets out on a lengthy, 50-minute crawl to an eventual cross of sorts while spectators watch a Cain and Abel skit, entry by a mysterious "Young Man," smiting lasers, some krumping, a high-energy mix of hip-hop and break-dance rhythms by a superb athlete named Christopher Titus and ceiling art that gradually comes into focus, from previous fibrous and follicled shapes. I found none of this allegorical experience to be celebratory.

So, that's what I thought I saw. But, maybe not.

A large cast is led by Titus, John Jay, John Toohill and Buffalo artist Tim McPeek.

"Procession," ritualistic and spiritual and almost wordless, is another technical wonder; Shanahan's Torn Space sound, light and video people always astound.

***

"Procession"    

3 stars (out of 4)  
  
WHEN: Through Oct. 9    

WHERE: Presented by Torn Space Theater in the Theosophical Society of Buffalo, 70 Military Road    

TICKETS: $20 general, $15 students    

INFO: www.tornspacetheater.com, 812-5733

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