Sol Niger is Latin for black sun and apparently the Roman world’s term for a solar eclipse. Hennessy’s Circo Zero and four other collaborators used the term for a no-holds barred comment on today’s overwrought world, covering virtually everything from the political/military mayhem in the Middle East to the omnipresence of media advertising, television in particular.
Project Artaud, named after theatrical theorist Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), is one of San Francisco’s first and perhaps only artists’ work/living complex which includes performance spaces. A former factory, Theatre Artaud still possesses some of its original manufacturing apparatus in its cavernous heights and lends itself to a variety of seating and staging arrangements. Among its pluses are sufficient height and hanging devices to permit aerial work, integral to Hennessy’s theatrical exploration. In Sol Niger he was abetted by aerialists Emily Leap and Brett Womack, musician Sean Feit and Seth Eisen, a visual and performance artist with lighting/set designer Max and B.J. Bandy, costume designer, all contributing to a decidedly eerie impact in Sol Niger's two weekend run 9/20-29.
The bare bone set displayed an upright piano downstage right, minus its front panels, an ironing board and iron elevated upstage center, a major aerial rope downstage left and two or three smaller ones mid stage right. Downstage right center a bolster-sized punching bag displayed a running commentary on the application of the title, English, French, Latin by various artists,authors, ultimately piling upon on one another, separating, piling, etc. Turned off at the beginning of the action to resurface mid way through, it was a metaphor on the incredible mixture of notions and indictments, a centerpiece echoing disparate visual and aural effects.
The performers appeared first in shaggy polar outfits, hooded or hatted, which were shed early to reveal the tights or body suits suitable for aerial work; during the work shapeless work clothes covered the body contours; at one point all the artists donned the shapeless black head shrouds made notorious at Abu Gharib. After a mock birth scene where Emily Leap provides the body from which two rag dolls emerge, Seth Eisen was given the bizarre task not only caring for the dolls, but also systematically ironing them as the major aerial feats went on. Sean Felt both picked at the piano strings and attacked the keyboard with a pounding display of dissonance.
The most poetic parts of the piece belonged to the aerial work, parts of which executed while Hennessy balanced on a large black ball, raising, stretching his arms, a metaphor perhaps for the human being trying to survive in one piece in today’s world. Hennessy operated the ropes which Emily Leap used while Brett Womack operated the large downstage rope, initially dropping from the rafters into the action. A slim young man with an incredible arabesque and elegantly arched and pointed feet, he and Leap were given enthusiastic applause.
I suspect it was B.J. Bandy who scurried around in a crouch, Kabuki- stage-assistant style. I also surmise that it was Max responsible for the lengthy expose of virtually every contemporary world folly while roped, pulled at the waist and tugged at one foot.
It didn’t take too much imagination to connect Sol Niger with Hennessy and company’s vision of the eclipse of any vestiges of sanity in today’s world. While I can’t say it equals the lingering memory of Under The Radar, Sol Niger made its point, earned an ovation and left me remembering it as surreal as parts of current daily life.
Hennessy, Leap. Womack, Eisen, Feit, Max, Bandy.