The Performant: World on fire


The Crucible’s “Machine: A Fire Opera” puts a blowtorch on it

First off let’s just all admit that fire is freaking cool. Or, rather, hot. And fire art? That’s about as hot as it gets. ‘Cause it’s art, see, but it’s also fire, and fire is awesome. Unless it’s busy burning down your apartment, then maybe not so much. But we are talking abut fire art right now, and if it’s fire art you want, then the first place you’re going to want to go is West Oakland’s Crucible, one of the most intriguing arts studios in the Bay Area.

With a focus on the industrial arts, The Crucible offers classes in all kinds of crafting, including blacksmithing, stoneworking, jewelry-making, and leather-working. But probably the most memorable pieces to come out of the Crucible are the signature large-scale sculptures and installations with flaming components that dominate its Fire Arts Festivals and stage productions. Currently lighting up the warehouse stage is their latest exploration of fire and art, “Machine,” an opera written by composer Clark Suprynowicz and librettist Mark Streshinsky, which -- probably not incidentally -- manages to showcase a large spectrum of Crucible-created work.

In fact, not long into the opera, it becomes apparent that the true star of the show may be the multi-level, interactive set, designed by Jean-François Revon, which gives a solid foundation to the abbreviated tale of a man enslaved by a great machine, which in turn sustains an imprisoned goddess. Solid metal scaffolding encloses an army of percussionists as well as the center stage, and the supertitles are displayed on a chunk of detritus emblazoned with the ghostly remnants of an EXIT sign. The rest of the musicians huddle beneath a large platform, above which a bare-chested strongman turns an enormous wheel, while beside them a cage of laser-like beams keeps the Goddess, Brigid (Dawn McCarthy) in her chamber. What appears to be a modified shipping container hulks in the background of the center platform, sliding open occasionally as a portal into memory. A scattered array of monitors display an understated video montage designed by Lucas Benjamin Krech, and the low throb of factory sounds and ambience by Phil Lockwood set the overall tone, sometimes more so than the actual score. Theatre design and industrial arts nerds will find much to praise.

Whether the opera nerds will concur is somewhat debatable, not least because the singers are all miked, and the libretto often seems at odds with the musical composition. But it seems safe to say that they’re probably not the target audience anyhow. Of the performers, the true standout is Eugene Brancoveanu, whose mellow baritone and expressive features serve the staging well, even during moments when the staging fails to serve him. Playing the role of a man awakening from a 10-year-long trance during which he has worked in the machine without memories of himself as a man, he is aided in his quest to escape by one of the only self-aware individuals in the establishment, the controller Sonya (Valentina Osinski), whose Thunderdome dominatrix gear brooks no subordination. Naturally they fall in love, and naturally there are unforeseen consequences for same, but really what’s important to know is that surrounding all the action is fire and fire—especially on a cold winter night—totally rules.

Through January 21
8:30 pm, $45-$65
The Crucible
1260 7th St., Oakl.

Also from this author

  • Bee true

    The documentaries of Berlin and Beyond

  • Divining the entrails

    New Last Gasp releases explore the unsettling art of Laurie Lipton and Elizabeth McGrath

  • The Performant: Epochalypse Now