Theater came from religious practice, and Sharon Bridgforth's "Bull-Jean/We Wake," now up in a premiere at Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, returns the form to its spiritual roots.
The one-act is not so much a play as a ritual of healing that bestows blessings and benedictions on the audience.
When I teach, I advise my students to go into shows or works of art with total openness. Let the work carry you away almost like the tide. "We Wake" transports you in similar fashion. It is an agglomeration of lyrical vignettes, their effect building on each other like waves on top of immersive waves.
Directed like movements of music by Daniel Alexander Jones, the show stars two actors speaking in complementary poetry. "We Wake" begins with a ritual of acknowledgment as both Aimee K. Bryant and Omi Osun Joni L. Jones take turns with a mirror that they hold to the audience, each saying, "See me."
Proverbs and affirmations follow. "Drop into your shimmer and shine," Bryant urges.
Dressed by Amber Brown in shimmery get-ups, the performers look space-age and rain-ready. They move in a scenography designed by Andrea Heilman to look like a vault or library whose precious treasures include lights and sounds. (Peter Morrow designed the soundscape, which includes songs and hollers coming through scratch and static.)
The dialogue streams from consciousness, coming sideways like unguarded testimonials. Close your eyes and you're listening to stories of resilient family. The voices are of grandmothers, their love imbuing every utterance of correction.
The sounds arise from a place of protection. The words warn and comfort and heal.
You want to impose order on the show and put it in a familiar, even linear frame. But "We Wake" refuses. It just touches and washes over you the way dreams do, reminding us of things that cannot be explained, of the miracle of life just from breathing.
Who: By Sharon Bridgforth. Directed by Daniel Alexander Jones.
When: 7 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends July 2.
Where: Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $5-$30, pick-your-price. 612-825-0459 or pillsburyhouseandtheatre.org.