There is something magical about the concept of time. We experience it as something that can only go forward. What has come before is forever lost to us and as specific moments or eras move further away from us, they become ever more elusive. We become enamored of them, curious about them, even fantasizing about ‘what it must have been like’ to be in this decade or that century. When The Speakeasy Society announced its partnership with Two Bit Circus to create a 4-chapter story about going into the past and uncovering a mystery, I leaped at the chance to travel back to an earlier moment in time and see what these two companies had in store. Fortunately, the first chapter, Atlas, gave me a tantalizing first taste of everything to come.
Under the Big Top: Atlas begins with a simple message. Ellen R. M Alvarez, the Head of Safety and Human Resources for Envision Technologies, needs volunteers to help find a missing scientist: Dr. Olivia Xanders.
Where has she disappeared? She stepped into one of the ‘time jumps’ that exist around Two Bit Circus and lead to places in the past, of course. Now it’s your turn to do the same in the hopes of finding her. So off you go to the darkest corner of the Two Bit space where two lights await you, one blazing red. As soon as that light turns from red to green, you’ve been told the time jump is stabilized and ready for you to go through it with no idea what’s on the other side. Go through it you do.
As soon as a voice calls out to you, incorrectly assuming you are someone else, the past surrounds you in a fascinating story of a trapeze performer, her husband, and how her life has reached this point. The Speakeasy Society builds a simple but elegant location in which you find yourself: a backstage dressing room full of the pieces and elements that a star needs to remember who she is and how far she may climb…or how far she may fall. Every item echoes the performer in front of you, giving you so much to look at that it’s hard to even grasp it all in the time you have with her.
The location is far from the only value here, however. In the performance I saw, Dasha Kittredge was marvelous in the role of Kitty Fletcher (Dasha performs some evenings and Claire Chapelli performs on others). Kitty is one half of the trapeze act known as “The Flying Bertollis,” along with husband Leonard, whose presence can be felt everywhere even though the character does not appear in this chapter. Dasha was elegant and classy, exactly as one would expect for a circus performer who had spent her life under the big top with more than one stage name and act. She was equally good, however, at showing the deeper vulnerability and insecurity of this circus star as she relayed a tale of the present and of the past, of love won and potentially lost, and of how time has affected her nearly as much as the time jump had impacted us, the audience. There is a lot of ground to cover in 30 minutes and Dasha was masterful in how she led the other audience member and me through her story. She was at times brutal, soft, bright and desperately sad, and I was very much caught up in caring for this star’s future, even as I was heartbroken for what had happened to her in the past.
As for the writing, it remains one of The Speakeasy Society’s great strengths as a company. There is a bit of genius to the idea of sending someone into the past and then hearing a story that is, itself, bouncing around in time. Atlas creates a beautiful symmetry between how the audience experiences this time jump and how Kitty looks at her own life. We see what we want to see, romanticize what we recall, and craft a linear story out of whatever specific moments we retain. And that’s how she’s living her life at the moment we see her. It’s a beautiful echo of a beautiful past – and both are somehow equally sad as well.
If there is anything negative to say about Atlas, it is that it feels too brief. Because Kitty has so much to say, I found it a little confusing at moments as to how interactive or responsive I should be to what was happening. There were clear moments where you are expected to respond. But there were also moments where I wondered if I could have said more, done more, responded more – and I was hesitant to do so because I was certain there was more information, more story to come, and I could feel time running out. It’s a good problem to have, however, that I was so intrigued by the story that I didn’t want to miss any piece of it because the half hour was over.
Atlas is a great opening act to the 4-part story that is Under the Big Top. I am excited to time jump more and learn where this story is ultimately going to take me. With a deft script and a fantastic performance from its actor, The Speakeasy Society has launched another dynamite tale.
ONE FINAL HINT: Make sure you fully check out anything you get handed in the past. You might be surprised at how much more complex this tale becomes in the present if you do.