Sunday, May 19, 2024

"The Brontide" by nimbus theater at The Crane Theater

This weekend, I spent two nights in a row at The Crane Theater, seeing two completely different shows. Friday night I saw a spooky pair of short plays, Ghoulish Delights' Bonehouse / Outsider, in the small studio space, and on Saturday I went back to see a new work by nimbus theatre, who owns/operates the space, in the main theater. nimbus almost exclusively does new work, often developed by the ensemble. Their newest work, The Brontide, was born out of an idea by co-Artistic Director Mitchell Frazier and company member Ernest Briggs (who also co-direct). An idea about stories, who tells them, who needs to hear them, who owns them. The result, by playwright Josh Cragun (another co-Artistic Director) is a modern and fantastical story about a tech company mogul who tries to buy up all of the stories in the world, and the scientist and filmmaker who try to stop him. As if often the case with new work, it could use a bit of editing and tightening up, but there are some interesting and relevant ideas discussed, and some great performances. The Brontide continues through June 9Bonehouse / Outsider closes on May 25, and Skylark Opera Theatre's production of the Sondheim revue Marry Me A Little opens at the Crane on June 20.

Brontide refers to not a British rock band from the mid aughts, but "a low muffled sound like distant thunder." In the play, it's a sort of limbo place where some of the characters find themselves. Joe Muckberg (Jon Stentz) owns a big tech company, a familiar type of evil genius. He creates something called the Storyverse, in which stories are tailored to each individual, involving AI and virtual reality. He's using a company called The Firm to help him do that, with two creepy not quite human representatives (Aleya Berry and David P. Schneider, fully committed to playing the alien/serpentine/not quite humans). To do that, he attempts to buy up all of the stories that exist, and starts suing people who try to tell them, like indie filmmakers Beatrice (Peyton McCandless) and Elouise (Starla Larson). Meanwhile, scientist Sylvia (Kirby Hoberg) stumbles upon a prototype, a box-shaped thing ominously called Pandora, and The Firm uses her enthusiastic new employee (Wasima Farah) to try to get it back. Into the mix is added an archetypal Trickster character called Briar (an impish Kolie Shaw), who seems to be the one making things happen, and tells Sylvia and Eloise some of her stories from long ago. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is, which the play does more or less successfully at times.

Briar (Kolie Shaw) shows Sylvia (Kirby Hoberg)
The Brontide (photo courtesy of nimbus)
The design balances the modern and fantastical elements with some cold office sets, and a large wooden multi-level structure representing a mountain. The lighting changes when we enter The Brontide, or when Sylvia turns on Pandora's box. Costumes range from modern to fantastical (Briar sports several interesting ensembles) to rustic in the flashbacks. And yes, we do hear and feel "a low muffled sound like distant thunder." (Scenic design by Erin Gustafson, costume design by Rubble&Ash, lighting design by Alice Endo, sound design by Dameun Strange.)

With the ever-growing popularity of AI used in creating stories, and uber wealthy tech giants trying to control the narrative, the themes of The Brontide resonate deeply. But there's a lot going on here, some of which didn't really come together for me. But as always with nimbus, there are some interesting ideas thoughtfully explored. The Brontide continues through June 9.