The Zeitgeist Chronicles, an original play that recently premiered at Dillard University, is a mosaic of the political campaign that produced our first African-American president. Scenes of the campaign is presented in large newsreel projections, but most of the show is in the form of several unrelated live-action dramas about people affected by the momentous race. Local playwright Stephen Montagne calls his work a “multimedia, operatic, theatrical event.” He’s got all his bases covered with that description. But does it work? Or more precisely, is it a mosaic or a muddle?
The good news is that Chronicles is a sprawling ambitious work. Under Ed Bishop’s able direction, an excellent cast brought the characters and conflicts to vivid life. But if the play was one-third shorter, it would be three times better. Also while the projections reflect the larger world, they sometimes flashed on and off — as though someone had missed a cue — and they are not crucial to the plot.
Each separate story has its own arc, but Chronicles as a whole does not. Maybe Aristotle’s requirement of having a beginning, middle and end doesn’t apply to “multimedia, operatic, theatrical events.”
There are several storylines. Ethan (Taylor McLellan), a young Mormon stand-up comic goes to New York to seek his fortune. He befriends Dorothy Dorchester (Janet Shea), a retired entertainer who lives alone. Dorothy was successful but became a drunk. She’s now a non-drinker like the Mormon. She’s also Jewish, and she and Ethan form an odd couple who help and encourage each other.
A second story follows the complex dynamics of a black family in New Orleans. The grandfather (Spencer Howard) is in a hospital bed at Touro Infirmary. His son Jackson (Damien Moses), grandson Miles (Martin Bradford) and granddaughter (Kari Cojoe) visit him continually, dividing their time between comforting the dying man and fighting among themselves.
Miles is a radio announcer who goes into emotional raptures on the air about candidate Barack Obama. He also has a pregnant girlfriend, Shauna (Jarell Hamilton), who gets fed up because she pays for their outings.
Eddie “Hell Raiser” Haynes (an intriguingly ambiguous Ray Vrazel) is a wounded veteran who huffs and puffs about being a “redneck” and a “cracker.” He is visited by his niece Kimberly (Jennifer Schemke), who is a reporter. She has never met her uncle or seen her father and seeks answers about her family.
There also is a sort of drunken interracial orgy at the Democratic convention in Denver and more stark plot twists as the election nears. Maybe all the romance and tragedy somehow reflect “The Change Election.” They certainly justify the claim of multi-media, operatic, theatrical event.
The cast and crew hope to keep working on the show and take it to the next level. For now, it’s a diamond in the very rough.
The Zeitgeist Chronicles
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 27-29
Dillard University, Samuel DuBois Cook Theatre, 2601 Gentilly Blvd., 816-4857