Nature Theater of Oklahoma, the New York ensemble theater company, embodies what is most prized about the FringeArts Festival; an absolutely original approach to stagecraft that constantly explores new terrain. In their 14 years, the Obie award-winning company has drawn admirers around the world and are returning to FringeArts for the third time to present their latest work, Life and Times, Episodes 1-5.
Theater co-founder Kelly Copper explained in BOMB Magazine that the original impetus for their name was surrealist writer Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika, in which the protagonist, Karl, fails at everything until he’s accepted into the Nature Theater of Oklahoma.
They give everyone who shows up a job, and it’s beautiful and angels are blowing trumpets and they put them all in a big train that rides off into the sunset bound for Oklahoma. You never know how it all ends.
Co-director of the company Pavol Liska has a story that somewhat parallels Karl’s, settling first in Oklahoma when he came here from Slovakia at 18. Over the years the pair have recruited about a dozen actors at a time to make their notions into reality on the stage.
Life and Times, Episodes 1-5, which opens this evening at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, is based on 16 hours of recorded conversation over the phone with company member Kristin Worrall that traces her life from birth through her thirties. From one woman’s fairly unexceptional life, Nature Theater of Oklahoma has crafted an epic musical extravaganza.
Life and Times Episode 1 covers Kelly’s life from birth through age 8.
Episode 2 shows ages 8 to 14 through “communist musical and ‘mass games’ rhythmic gymnastic spectacle.”
Episodes 3 & 4 span adolescence and high school, ages 14-18, in which “experimentation, rebellion, and drug use collide with religion and metaphysics…first love and first cigarettes… within the dramatic conventions of a “‘locked-room’ mystery play.”
Life and Times: Episode 4.5 & 5 has a 30-minute animated film and an illuminated manuscript and live concert dealing with the heroine’s first sexual experience. Episode 4.5 is being shown in New York City every night in September on jumbotrons in Times Square!
This is a tantalizing menu of performances that can be viewed as one-off or in sequence, and for the intrepid playgoer, there’s a marathon, all five episodes in a row for 12 hours on September 14th.
The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood, called the piece “One of the most unforgettable adventures of my theater going experience.”
For performances and tickets, click here.
Watch an excerpt of the show below.30 Days of Philly Arts, The Key Arts