Theater through the centuries has been used for exposing political and social ills. Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s current production, “The Emotions of Normal People,” addresses life in East Germany in the 1970s, employing a format known as “devised theatre.” The result is entertaining, intriguing and mystifying, all at the same time.
In “devised theatre,” the finished product is a collaborative effort among actors and creative staff, with ideas and materials coming from a wide range of sources. “Emotions” is made up of selections from nonfiction books and documentary films about the period, combined with more than 30 different texts and pieces of music, from Walt Whitman and Franz Schubert to Jonathan Franzen and The Eagles.
The 70-minute work is not a chronological narrative but a series of vignettes about members of an extended family living in one apartment, constantly under surveillance by Stasi, the secret police. Each family member’s dreams and desires are expressed in dialogue, song and choreographed movement, sometimes alone, sometimes within an ensemble.
As a framing device, an ominous, robotic figure stands at an elevated lectern, grilling the family members about suspicious activities, frequently filming their responses. This figure also explains various lengthy German terms, which precede and apply to the next family member being interrogated.
The nine cast members sing well, dance impressively and create memorable characters. Standout moments include Jessica Flemming’s engaging vocals in ELO’s “Telephone Line,” Lazarus Simmons’ amazing monologue enumerating architectural elements of a palace, Samantha Rahn’s frightening episode of frenzied possession and Dana Marks’ haunting rendition of Franz Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger.” Shelby Hahn, Jessica Hudson, Emma Nadeau, Liam O’Neill and Dale Wolf also contribute arresting segments.
Miyuki Su’s two-level setting of apartment rooms are covered with fine mesh screening that reveals the actors when lit inside by Steve Tell’s near-psychedelic designs but also reflects Alex Maness’ stage-filling video projections. Michael Palm’s eerie sound design adds suitable otherworldliness to the mix. Directors Nicola Bullock, Jaybird O’Berski and Tony Perucci skillfully weave these wildly disparate elements into a single, tightly paced whole.
Devised theatre pieces are often more about the process that the product, meaning more to the participants than the viewers. Here, although the company worked on “Emotions” over a 14-month period and included several dozen additional creators, the piece has admirable coherence and focus.
While not for all theatergoers, those willing to let “Emotions” make its effects without trying to figure out precise interpretations should have a stimulating experience.
What: “The Emotions of Normal People” presented by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication
Where: Swain Hall, 101 East Cameron Avenue, UNC campus, Chapel Hill
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 10-12 and 17-19
Tickets: $17 (military/seniors $13; students $9)
Info: 919-962-2311 or littlegreenpig.com