Machine Project will present not one, but two very rare performances (the fourth and fifth EVER) of Black/White Oratorio by Robert Lax and John Beer.
The play will be performed with a cast of 12 for two audiences of 12 in our Mystery Theater. (In other words, even with two shows, seating will be even more limited than usual.) Lax’s later poetry, from which this play emerges, is often named minimalist for obvious reasons–but is also richly nuanced and incantatory, even hypnotic. In this theatrical embodiment of his poetry, created by Lax and John Beer on the island of Patmos in the late nineties near the end of Lax’s life, these tendencies of the work are sure to be intensely on display. This seems especially true given the intimacy of the setting.
John Beer, co-author of Black/White Oratorio, writes of its origin: “I was Robert Lax’s assistant on the island of Patmos between 1996 and 1998. One night at dinner, Lax mentioned that he was interested in putting together a performance piece based on his abstract color poems (like Black and White), poems that presented series of color words in rhythmic groupings. The interest in performance went back a long way; Lax’s original literary ambition was to write comic plays, in the style of Noel Coward. The Oratorio may have fewer jokes, but the aspiration to a perfection based on timing remains. It took about six weeks to sort through color poems and assemble them into the right kind of structure, though the initial inspiration—that a chorus/soloist structure would enable progressive development of motifs—came quickly. The Oratorio has been performed three times to my knowledge, in September of 1998 at the Festival la Batie in Geneva, Switzerland (directed by Vincent Barras), a second time in Geneva in 2006 (also directed by Barras), and in August of 2004 for the Discrete Series in Chicago.