Clay Continent | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Clay Continent


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Clay Continent, Mammals, at the Space. The title comes from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: "Is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent?" A phantasmagoric collage of Robert Louis Stevenson's story and others, this is a script whose invention lies mostly in the juxtaposition of borrowed texts--to fully appreciate it you'd need a libretto and likely a degree in literature. But for the most part the Mammals clear this hurdle with their raw, audacious lighting, stagecraft, and sound, throwing Clay Continent's cerebral content into tense, delirious relief.

Adapter-director Bob Fisher has pared the characters down to the two principals and Jekyll's lawyer Utterson, murdered here and reborn as avenging superego. Broadly speaking, conceits from Poe blur Stevenson's supernatural science fiction into the sicker, more bewildering madness of "William Wilson" and "The Premature Burial"; excerpts from Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground flesh out the story's dualism, giving Hyde a more recognizable self-loathing and Jekyll a more penetrating if unhinged rationality.

Fisher's seamless, often ingenious recombinations are miked through headsets, amplified, distorted, and woven into various menacing industrial throbs, enveloping the audience in a clatter of overlapping lines. Meanwhile the bloody Grand Guignol staging and action break the psychodramatic relationships down to a procession of vivid, visceral ideographs that jerk things along while exposing the contradictions in the doctor's alienated intelligence. Derek Richard Smart's Jekyll is sometimes a trifle too whiny; otherwise the Mammals do a close to flawless job handling difficult but thrilling material.

--Brian Nemtusak

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