In their newest work, “The Way at Midnight,” experimental theater company Mondo Bizarro invites audiences to get lost.
The new play, running Sept. 14-23, kicks off the Contemporary Art Center’s 2017-18 performing arts season with a meditation on the unexpected — and often disorienting —twists and turns that make up a life’s journey.
“We’ve come to the middle of the night, and we’re trying to find our way,” said director Joanna Russo, explaining the show’s title.
“We may have taken some wrong turns at different points, and now we’re looking around, finding ourselves in dark places as we look into the future, and we don’t know where we’re headed — either individually or as a society.”
“The Way at Midnight” features performers Hannah Pepper-Cunningham and Nick Slie (both members of the Mondo Bizarro ensemble, as is Russo) inhabiting various characters in three interwoven and interconnected storylines.
The primary plot follows two aging friends, Izzy and Renaud, who are mysteriously beckoned into a stretch of woods late at night to attend a funeral. It’s unclear whose life is being mourned, but the men get the sense it might be their own.
“Maybe they’re close to death, or maybe there are dead people around,” hints Russo, suggesting an element of the supernatural. “As they wander off into the woods, they start to encounter what they need to deal with—what they need to come to terms with — before they die.”
Woven into the story of Izzy and Renaud is the tale of a newly arrived 16th-century Spanish conquistador tasked with mapping the New World, and a pair of punk rock hackers intent on tearing down what they consider to be artificial social and political constraints imposed by history.
The play’s narrative structure is the result of nearly two years of development by the three co-collaborators, who were partly inspired by Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” which performer Pepper-Cunningham said raised questions like “what does it mean to be lost, what do we gain from being lost, and how do we negotiate the experience of being lost?”
Through writing, improvising and exploring characters, the show’s stories began to emerge and take shape. From there, the trio of creators recruited artists to help design the light, sound and video elements that bolster the multimedia spectacle of the performance.
“With our themes around how you encounter the unknown, we were able to be open as we encountered it ourselves,” said Russo, describing the creative process.
When “The Way at Midnight” debuts, it will also mark the unveiling of the CAC’s newly renovated warehouse performance space, complete with a professional-level lighting grid and other upgrades designed for more robust performances.
“The warehouse is like a playground for artists,” said Russo. “It’s such a large space, and now that it has all the technical capacities, I think it’s really going to be a pleasure to work in there.”
While Russo describes “The Way at Midnight” as a wide-ranging show that “deals with colonization, punk rock, masculinity and the space between life and death,” performer Pepper-Cunningham chimes in to add that the show is not all doom and gloom.
“It’s intense in moments, but it’s also funny, light and weird,” she said. “You don’t have to go on a deep personal journey. You might decide that you want to, but you can just come and have a good time.”
'The Way at Midnight'
WHEN: Sept. 14-23.
WHERE: Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St.
TICKETS: $35-40 (discounts for CAC members available).
INFO: www.cacno.org or (504) 528-3800.