The impossible-to-categorize director-writer-designer-filmmaker Ildiko Nemeth is back with another one of her funny and visually stunning stage pieces, “Cosmicomics,” which is running through April 19 at Dixon Place in downtown Manhattan.
Nemeth and her New Stage Theatre Company create works of great beauty and heightened theatricality in various New York City spaces. While I’m sure she must work on what a commercial theater producer would consider a shoestring, the theater artist is second to none in terms of the images she creates and the moods she spins with her ruminations on a wide variety of topics and themes.
Following that old tailoring notion of cutting your suit to fit the cloth you have, Nemeth has shown a very impressive ability to make whatever theater space she lands in a seemingly perfect palette for her visions. Nemeth does not let her position as a stage nomad — her company has no home of its own — get in the way of making the most of whatever venue she works in.
Nemeth is just as impressive in tiny spaces as she is in the rather vast playing area in the back of the Theater for the New City (where the spectacular “Garden of Dreams” often looked like a theater director’s take on the wide screen Cinemascope process).
“Cosmicomics” is being presented in the snug playing area at Dixon Place. When you arrive there are just a few white platforms and screens on the stage — no hint of the theatrical fireworks that are set off during the show.
The piece based on a novel by Italo Calvino shows us the creation and expansion of the universe in strictly human terms, with people playing the compressed point that the Big Bang blew apart, setting in motion the vastness of time and space that has brought us to where we are now (wherever that is!)
The comedy starts with the comfortably clustered molecules or atoms expressing an immediate sense of dislocation and nostalgia from the predicament of being blown to the ends of a new universe. Nemeth creates a creepy, funny mood through ever-present (and gorgeous) projections that suggest the vastness of space and our puny place in it.
The black comedy built into the show is humanity’s paltry efforts to explain the unexplainable in that blink of an eye that constitutes a human life in such immensities of time. Even the notion of God seems tiny — and strictly human-centric — as Nemeth unmoors her “characters” and they can only summon up ludicrous, self-centered notions of what it all means.
Because the New Stage Theatre Company deals with ideas rather than conventional plot, there is always a risk that any description will make the enterprise sound hopelessly pretentious. Nothing could be further from the truth because of the crackpot humor that is in every scene of every show.
I don’t think that “Cosmicomics” is meant to be “understood” in the standard theatrical sense of a lucid play with a beginning, a middle and an end. Nemeth gives us wonderful images and sounds to contemplate but she respects her audience enough to leave any conclusions about the stage event to them.