Crowded Fire’s ‘Sticky Time’ a puzzling enigma

Time is drastically out of joint in Marilee Talkington’s mystifying new play, “Sticky Time,” which is part sci-fi, part philosophical.

The audience sits in a cozy clump on swivel chairs in the middle of Brava Theater’s upstairs black box space. Before the lights go down, a voiceover whispers, “Now, now, now.”

Directed by Talkington and presented by her own Vanguardian Productions and the ever-adventurous Crowded Fire Theater, “Time” is a dramatic exploration of what could happen if time as we know it starts to run out. At least, that’s what the program says it’s about.

The live action ensues on narrow raised platforms that completely encircle the audience. Behind the actors is a continuous wash of moving images on screens, mostly abstract, but some are scenes of the performers in another, earlier – or perhaps parallel – life. (High-tech visual effects by Lloyd Vance and Rebecca Longworth comprise video and imaging software projecting onto fiber optics.)

Composer Chao Jan Chang’s soundscape, too, is a sort of surround sound.

Talkington’s universe is a grim, scary place, where monsters may or may not lurk. As time ravels and unravels, the characters often moan and clutch their stomachs, frightened and in pain. Is this a condensed version of our own human journey?

Three worker in overalls are, it seems, in charge of keeping time flowing.

Tim(e) (Lawrence Radecker) and Emit (Michele Leavey) frantically try to unstick it when it gets stuck — using the same methods you’d use to fix a plugged-up toilet — and watch for suspected leaks.

When the uptight boss, Thea (Rami Margron), accidentally pricks herself with a loose thread and has a sublime transcendental experience, things go even more seriously haywire.

Thea begs a mysterious and watchful woman called The Only, an echoey-voiced vision in white (Mollena Williams), for a fix, a way out of the now, a return to her enlightened moment.

The Only issues profound-sounding warnings, advice and commentary – “I’m here to listen and to learn,” “Our time is running out,” “Things have to end to begin again” — but what her pronouncements mean is murky.

A central scene plays out, rewinds, replays, freezes and unfreezes, is fractured and fragmented, as time lurches along.

There are elements in Talkington’s script of everything from “Groundhog Day” to garden-variety psychedelic trips, and the sci-fi part is more engaging than the philosophical part.

Despite the environmental and sensorial theatricality, and strong acting all around, “Sticky Time” is an intriguing but frustratingly enigmatic experiment.

THEATER REVIEW

Sticky Time

Presented by Crowded Fire Theater/Vanguardian Productions

Where: Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Nov. 18
Tickets: $15 to $40
Contact: (415) 255-7846, www.crowdedfire.org

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