early morning opera

Early Morning Opera, Tyondai Braxton: Incomplete enchantments

Intriguing TBA Festival shows demonstrate that less isn't always more.

A pair of white telephones. A few white cardboard file boxes, one sporting an old fashioned typewriter on top. A black office chair. Those are the only obvious props used in Early Morning Opera’s new production, The Institute of Memory, one of the more intriguing offerings presented at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s 2015 Time-Based Art Festival. Its creator Lars Jan and a colleague stride onstage wearing all-white suits, and the whole set is lit by a piercing white fluorescent light fixture that turns out to play multiple functions.

All this black and white design might lead you to expect a comparably simple. But just as that typewriter conceals a video and music controller, the simplistic accoutrements only amplify by contrast the ambiguity of the enigmatic character the story revolves around: Jan’s father, who spent most of his life in Poland before fleeing to the US in the wake of the Nazi invasion in 1939 and subsequent Russian domination of the country.

Lars Jan built "The Institute of Memory" at PICA's 2015 Time-Based Art Festival. Photo: Sophia Wright Emigh.

Lars Jan built “The Institute of Memory” at PICA’s 2015 Time-Based Art Festival. Photo: Sophia Wright Emigh.

After an opening scene involving a couple of soldiers in a forest that doesn’t quite make sense until the end, followed by a couple of other seemingly unrelated scenes, writer-director-actor Jan breaks the fourth wall to set up the journey he’s taking us on: a quest to recapture his father’s deliberately concealed past, why he kept it hidden from his son (who grew up in his mother’s home after she fled her husband when Jan was a child), and how their relationship evolved as Jan tried to learn more. The prospect of solving that mystery is what keeps the audience engaged in Jan’s personal story. Ultimately, though as presented in this incarnation, the answer proves less satisfying than it might have.


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