At Artstillery's 'The Generations of Adam,' theatre is healing.
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
I think I should say at the outset that this is not a typical review, because what Artstillery has created with The Generations of Adam isn't a typical theatrical experience. My reaction to the piece took me by surprise, and a week later I'm still reflective about my experience and my own place in its themes.
The Generations of Adam is an immersive performance installation, housed in a West Dallas warehouse. When you enter the space you quickly realize that there's no place to hide. There is no traditional theater seating. If you sit down, you might end up in the middle of a scene. You can probably get away with just being an observer, but I was never able to shake the feeling that I was also in the spotlight.
A compilation of true stories about abuse in relationships, The Generations of Adam covers urgent topics including: gaslighting/psychological abuse in relationships, sexual abuse in the church/religion, issues within sexuality and gender, and cultural expectations about sex and religion.
The stories are dramatized in stand-alone, highly detailed mini sets. The strict, Catholic Latinx family struggles with their son's homosexuality at the dinner table. The sex-addicted church Deacon tries to regain the trust of his wife at a poignantly realistic bedroom dressing station. In the living room, the static filtered screen plays televangelist sermons and soft sexual imagery on a loop. The set's centerpiece, a white porcelain bathtub, doubles as a baptismal, and the scenes that take place in it tackle some of the toughest aspects of abuse. In fact, several of the bathtub scenes were more than I could handle emotionally. Witnessing the subversion of a sacred space into a space of abuse sent me outside.
In a traditional theatre setting, there's a feedback loop of giving and receiving between the audience and the performers: the players tell the story and the audience responds, but that's often the extent of the participation. If the play is successful, the audience falls into the magic of the theatrical experience and has an emotional response. But The Generations of Adam asks the audience to be both observer and participant. You participate because you are immersed in the drawing out, naming, and processing/healing of a global pain body. The production shares stories that cover so many aspects of abuse in relationships, you almost can't help but be triggered by something. The only way out, in this case, is to go through it. If you can stick it out, there’s hope and healing on the other side. The process is powerful, if not uncomfortable and emotional.
Artstillery did everything right. No piece of work is ever perfect, but from a critical standpoint, each piece of the story was carefully curated and composed to create a specific world and help tell a specific story. The Generations of Adam is creative and innovative in its storytelling. But I didn't come away from this experience thinking about the sets, video loops, and performances. I came away processing my own reaction. It's therapeutic performance, or art as therapy, and at times the lines between entertainment and deep emotional processing are blurred.
The Generations of Adam is produced by Artstillery, with performances through November 16th at 723 Fort Worth Avenue in West Dallas. Advance ticket reservations are advised, and available at https://www.artstillery.org.
The Generations of Adam was Written and Created by Michael W. Cleveland, Lucila Rojas, Johnny Rutledge, and Ilknur Ozgur. 7 months in the making, this piece was devised from true stories taken from the community. Directed by Ilknur Ozgur. Additional Production credits include: Puppets by Noel Williams, Set Design by Johnny Rutledge, Photography by Alisa Eykilis & Johnny Rutledge, and Technical Direction by Michael W. Cleveland.