Created by: Kayla Asbell, Denis Butkus, Cinthia Chen, Alex Hawthorn, Scott Jumawan-Spahr, Michael Littig, Dima Mikhayel Matta, Justin Nestor, Rubén Polendo, Monica Sanborn, Corey Sullivan, Isabelle Uzcáteguii, Ada Westfall
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Entering to find twelve comfortable cushions arranged evenly around soft pink carpet, each topped with a pair of headphones, one is immediately aware that Theater MITU’s Utopian Hotline is going to be a singular experience. Taking a seat on the floor as one of only a dozen audience members (max capacity for this particular show), one realizes what looked like a drop ceiling while walking by is in fact a canvas for projection to be viewed from below.
Headphones on, the room darkens. Actors using a central table covered in (mostly 1970’s-era) audio technology take the audience on a journey through past, present, and hopes for the future. The cast speaks and sings entirely into telephones and microphones for the entirety of the show, creating a sense of both intimacy and distance through the intermediated sounds.
This forty-five minute show at MITU580 is more rumination than narrative. There are no protagonists, no antagonists. There is no climax or denouement. Utopian Hotline is a bit an exercise in post-dramatic theatre, a tad community-based experience, and a little research-centric devised work. Interweaving deeply personal stories about family and loss with a brief history of the golden record and Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on black holes, Utopian Hotline questions the concepts of linear time, future, past, permanence, and perception.
The tech in this show is exquisite and demands precise timing from performers. Kayla Asbell, Isis Bruno, Dima Mikhayel Matta, and Monica Sanborn are stunningly precise yet natural in their delivery of this carefully curated project. They feel like the caretakers and guides through the audience. A heady show with complex concepts (SETI, Brooklyn Independent Middle School, and Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative are both collaborators on the project), this could easily feel like an immersive TED Talk. However, the ensemble brings rich heart and humanity to the piece, their voices in the headphones a reassuring embrace to our minds.
Utopian Hotline is an exciting new take on devised community theatre, immersive performance, docudrama, soundscape, and performance art. Taking what it needs from each genre and leaving that which is does not, the show is an experience that engages the audience to think and feel, though never crossing the line into didactic pontification. It is a communal mediation on where we are in time; what the future, the past, and the present really mean. It is a rumination on our shared humanity and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The Utopian Hotline is a real hotline, by the way. Part of the rich body of source material for the show (which is listed in the rear of the program, impressive dramaturgy!), the hotline is still active for those who wish to share their voices and help create the vision of a better tomorrow – it can be reached at +1-646-694-8050. Engaging with the hotline is enriched by experiencing the live performance; be sure to do both before the show’s final performance on September 26.
Runs Through 26 September 2021 | Photo Credit: Alex Hawthorn