Jay Scheib’s Bellona at The Kitchen
Jay Scheib’s Bellona, Destroyer of Cities [and adaptation of Samuel Delany’s Dahlgren] is a sensory overload of a surreal sci-fi mindfuck, a seriously epic vision of a post-apocalyptic city. It is slippy and unnerving, violently sexual, brash, troubled and troubling.
The show takes place in Bellona, which has been decimated by some disaster that no-one quite remembers, and it is now a shattered landscape of violence and mayhem. Every shifts – sexuality, race, place, politics – and the citizens have to cope with life in a lawless, upended society. The story follows two groups of people, a ragtag ever-changing band of street-type people and a four-person family living in an apartment that serves as a type of bunker against the chaos outside. The main character is Kid or Kidd – a newcomer to Bellona who can’t remember her name but, determined to become a great writer, uses the chaos as inspiration for a mysterious book of poems.
In Bellona sex is violence and once-normal interactions are fraught with conflict and aggression. Scheib’s staging is intensely physical with the actors throwing each other around and into the set, wreaking destruction on each other and their environs. Conversations are like interrogations and what passes for affection is akin to assault.
Several crucial scenes unfold to a thundering edit of Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks – and it captures the mood of threat, violence and majestic destruction perfectly.
The experience of watching the show is as disorienting as life is for the characters – people come and go with little to no introduction, their names change, their identities, sexualities and genders shift. Lines are delivered like threats and accusations. These are not well-adjusted people having emotional crises, these are people who are living with their backs constantly against the wall as the world falls apart around them.
Heightening the sense of disorientation is Scheib’s use of video. He is one of the few directors who really seems to know how to blend performative and cinematic vocabularies, using video cameras as tools to direct our attention to moments that might be lost, or to heighten our awareness of multiple realities or just to create a fractured sense of reality.
The show is a rough beast, indeed, and getting caught up in the maelstrom is well worth the trip. It plays at the Kitchen until April 10. It will probably sell out so get your tix ahead of time.
Bellona, Destroyer of Cities features performances by Sarita Choudhury, Caleb Hammond, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Jon Morris, William Nadylam, Kaneza Schaal, Tanya Selvaratnam, April Sweeney, and Natalie Thomas; Scenic Design by Peter Ksander; Costume Design by Oana Botez-Ban; Sound Design by Catherine McCurry; Lighting Design by Miranda k. Hardy; Video and Photography by Carrie Mae Weems and Jay Scheib; Assistant Director: Laine Rettmer; Tour Producer: ArKtype/Thomas O. Kriegsmann; Produced by Tanya Selvaratnam; Conceived and Directed by Jay Scheib.