In the small hours of the morning, my consciousness sometimes comes lumbering up halfway to a murky level of awareness that is not sleep, but not quite full wakefulness. It is then that precise memories of the near and distant past flow by, as well as roiling concerns over the political situation. I call it rummaging through the files. I am often astonished by the depth and breadth of my own thoughts. I think this gift belongs to everyone, though many perhaps are not aware of it. This kind of awareness is often derided as self-consciousness, as if it is a bad thing.
The mental capacities of other mammals are unknown. Who knows how and what a whale thinks? But after experiencing Plasticity, the extraordinary multimedia performance piece written Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill and staged with consummate skill by an extraordinary creative team, I am convinced that the human brain may well be the crown of creation.
To simplify, brain plasticity is “the ability of the brain to modify its connections or re-wire itself. Without this ability, any brain, not just the human brain, would be unable to develop from infancy through to adulthood or recover from brain injury (theconversation.com).”
In Plasticity, David Rosely, an adventurer who skin dives in treacherous Meso-American pools, flies like a squirrel in a wing suit, and climbs sheer rock walls free-hand, suffers an aneurism. He languishes unconscious in intensive care while doctors do everything medically possible to save him. Alex Lyras, in a tour-de-force performance, plays no fewer than seven distinct characters, sometimes shifting between two characters in the blink of an eye. An upbeat South Asian doctor tries to be positive in outlook. An orderly, a street poet, has a dimmer view. David’s twin brother, Grant, a high power venture capitalist on a losing streak, is the person who must make the call when the time comes to end the heroic efforts. A devoted fiancée fumes over her lack of standing in the situation. Although unseen and unheard, she is brought vividly to life in scenes with her therapist, her lawyer and encounters with Grant.
What makes this production outstanding is the astonishing level of multi-media elements. The scene design employs a “scrim sandwich” upon which video and other graphics are projected. A virtually transparent scrim downstage and another screen upstage produces a close approximation of a 3D effect. In a few scenes, Mr. Lyras as Grant has Skype conversations with the giant image of Mr. Lyras as a kind of hip, sunglass-wearing consulting neurologist. The screens show multiple locations, as well as visual representations of the quivering neural network of the brain. Video scenes that suggest the entire span of the injured man’s life flow in a visual gush.
Plasticity is smartly directed by Robert McCaskill. The creative team includes video designer Corwin Evans; editor Peter Chakos; composer and sound designer Ken Rich; and set and lighting designer Matt Richter. Also credited in the program are Tim Arnold, Matthew Schiffman, Celia Schaefer, Jonathan Schell, Dean Lyras, Christina Xenos, and the digital creation company, Istros Media.
All the dazzle of the media elements aside, the story has a beating, human heart. The characters that Mr. Lyras creates are vivid and touching as they express the angst, frustration and love that surrounds the looming loss of a loved one. Staged in the intimate confines of the Hudson Guild Theatre and lavishly produced, Plasticity is mesmerizing. Get your tickets! The shows run extends through April 10.