“Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, is performed by the kind of superhero-like actors who appear to be preternaturally beautiful, physical and emotional acrobats. It’s a sexy, dangerous and bewildering piece and it also feels perfectly appropriate for the stage of the I.C.A.
“Bellona” is an adaptation of the 900-page philosophical dystopian sci-fi novel, Dahlgren, by Samuel R. Delaney. Created meticulously over two years through improvisation and experimentation. It’s performed in two sparsely laid out rooms full of audio and video equipment. The rooms are separated visually by three video screens stacked vertically in a column at center stage. Action in the rooms is shown on the screens, not only providing alternate angles on a scene, but alternate settings; A completely different background–that of seedy diner–shows up in the video versions, as if scenes were filmed against a green screen and edited.
So “Bellona” is part live theater and part film. It’s a non-linear, disjointed sci-fi mystery. It is in fact so complex in form and narrative content that it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps to keep things from getting to heady, the performance itself starts with a graphically simulated, multi-racial, bi-sexual orgy, one of the participants of which appears to be a neo-Nazi.
Things don’t really get any more stable, coherent or comfortable from there. What is clear is that “Bellona” is the story of a poet, played by Sarita Choudhury, who, suffering from amnesia, is dubbed simply, “Kid.” Kid is in a dangerous place, both mentally and physically. She drifts between a diner full of unsavory characters who each try to seduce her with varied success, through naked streets full of unending violence, and a crumbling apartment building occupied by a nuclear family, each member of which seems to be working through personal traumas. Sometimes Kid seems to be seeking a publisher for her poetry. In the apartment, she seems to seek shelter, negotiate the possibility of a job with the man of the house, and perhaps work on solving a bit of a mystery that links the family’s daughter to characters in the diner.
On her journeys, she takes a composition notebook full of her poetry, which describes a decaying city in which the human id is given free reign. From time to time we hear snippets of her poetry, and at crucial moments, we hear her lines critiqued. What is not clear is whether or not her poetry is creating the strange urban dreamscape we see around her, or if the city has created her schizophrenia.
The play evokes nothing better than such a mental state, linking scenes together not by cause and effect but through association and the underlying feelings of fear and surprise. It’s the most authentically surreal performance I’ve scene on stage. It took me some time to put the world back together upon leaving it, but it’s an experience I’m glad to have had.