With a mostly barely stage and only a couple pieces of scaffolding, a table, a few remnants of fabric and some scattered gold pieces of paper, 10 UMD actors bring to devastating life a 10th century play by the medieval poetess and playwright Hrotsvit of Gandersheim.
Director Jenna Soleo-Shanks, a theatrical historian and medievalist, adapted the ancient text, "The Conversion of the Harlot Thais," bringing a complex and imaginative vision to the production.
"Time's Up" is not an easy show to watch or at times to understand completely. Early on, an ensemble member says, "I'm so confused," and "This is pretty heavy stuff." The deep philosophical "lecture" that opens the performance makes it difficult for the audience to get their bearings of time and place.
Yet, it seems part of the intention to keep the audience uncomfortable, unsure and off balance with this slim plot of legendary courtesan Thais, and Paphnutius, the man obsessed with her, who feels compelled to rescue her from her sinful life.
Blending beautiful moments of lyrical movement with jarring angles and stylized poses, Rebecca Katz Harwood's masterful choreography is a significant part of the storytelling and establishment of the different groups of characters.
Using a mix of everything from Gregorian style chants to modern instrumental jazz, guest composer and music supervisor Andy Kust enhances the dramatic action with his witty musical motifs.
Jon Brophy's lighting is another significant theatrical element, opening with abrupt shifts of darkness and light as the cast moves into different tableaux. Brophy's use of color, isolation and movement is critical to the show's success.
As the narration of Paphnutius tells, "There is a woman, a shameless woman ..." whose beauty is legendary as "the flame of the world." Sarah Dickson, compelling as Thais, lures the audience into her shadowy world. Her dramatic arc from the arrogant, elegant harlot, queen of her domain, to the completely broken and increasingly mad prisoner locked away in her small, filthy convent cell, is the show's core.
Patrick Timmons, as Paphnutius, also travels an arc to madness as his character's "intervention" not only destroys the life of Thais but his own as well. Despite his youthfulness and "baby face," Timmons gives a mature performance in the less showy role.
The ensemble plays a variety of parts from the "locals" who have their "West Side Story" Jets vibe on, and later pay their creepy homage to "The Handmaid's Tale." At times humorous and other times menacing, the ensemble members help to advance the story with song, dance and their panoply of characters.
In a recent interview, Soleo-Shanks said that the play is about how women have lived and found their way in the world over the centuries, noting how that dominant dramatic theme has not changed from the early Greeks to modern day.
This dark play gives us pause to decide who is the sinner and who is the sinned against and how control over another person, in any kind of physical or psychological bondage, can crush the human spirit.
If you go
What: "Time's Up"
Where: UMD's Dudley Experimental Theatre
When: March 7-9 and 19-23 at 7:30 p.m.; March 24 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $21 adults; $16 seniors, faculty, staff, veterans; $10 students; $8 UMD students. Available online at www.tickets.umn.edu or at (218) 726-8561