~ by Ty Pi
March 4th, 2016 was the closing night of the world premiere of the Chicago Slam Works production of Incendium. I had a chance to see their previous show, Handsome Animals, which explored the social construction of body image and gender. The production was directed by J.W. Basillo and the writing team was led by Teagan Walsh-Davis. I enjoyed that production quite a bit and eagerly awaited the chance to see their followup production, Incendium. I attended on their closing night and I was not disappointed.
The structure of the two Chicago Slam Works productions mentioned here are rooted in poetry. Handsome Animals delivered its content through a series of poems and short scenes. Basillo once again helms Incendium (written by the performers), which presents itself more like a cabaret set on a black box stage at Stage 773. The show comes equipped with not just poetry, but also songs, juggling, acrobatics, a burlesque number, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, going as far as to have the audience directly involved. It goes against the norms of theatre and is performed with a great sense of fun. Within this abstract circus lies one central theme: Death. The concept of death is explored throughout most of the play, if not all of it.
For this theatre patron, their presentation of that theme is what not only made this ride worthwhile, but also necessary. The production makes a heavy emphasis on how life is temporary, memories fade, life can be miserable, and death is inevitable. Although these points are repeated, it works because these are all too true. These theme are supported by the show’s examinations of time, individual identity, one’s sense of purpose in the world, and even the feeling of boredom. The more I think about it, Incendium does not just make death a theme, but also more of a statement. In a person’s lifetime, one will experience hardships, feelings of boredom, contemplate their sense of purpose in the world, memories of their life will fade, and until someone discovers the cure for mortality, death is inevitable. Life is a temporary experience and we only get to do it once.
I am reminded of a quote from Orson Welles in his documentary, F for Fake. “Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing! Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.” Although such themes can be seen as too downbeat or morose, the show has a sense of fun about it, and at times becomes self-deprecating. The play explores that when one of the performers named Noob (Joseph Ramski) tries to bring optimism into the situation, only to be crushed by everyone in a fashion that can be described as humorous cynicism. My takeaway from that is that it’s easy to be cynical about life and death, but it does not change anything. Instead of remaining pessimistic about it all, I felt the play encouraged me to become more optimistic and happy that I even get to experience life at all.
I extend my congratulations to the Chicago Slam Works cast and crew for their efforts to bring Incendium to life. Although the run of the show has ended, their next production will premiere at Stage 773 on May 6th, 2016. It is called This Great Nation, Much Enduring. I was informed that this production will be about America. Already, I am looking forward to seeing it, and I encourage you to head to their website to learn more about the poetry-forward company.