“Tomorrow’s Parties” launches "Strange Times" series at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater | Blogh

“Tomorrow’s Parties” launches "Strange Times" series at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater

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What is the future?

Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
  • Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon in "Tomorrow's Parties"
After seeing this stage work, performed last night by England’s acclaimed Forced Entertainment, I have the sense that the future is an empty box we can’t help opening, again and again.

The show consists of just two performers, Richard Lowdon and Claire Marshall, standing in one spot and for 80 minutes delivering visions of what life on Earth will be like some years from now.

The prognostications often contradict each other: Their predictions of Earth’s population, for instance, range from zero humans to so many people that life resembles a perpetual subway ride. And over the course of the evening, everything is addressed from what and how we’ll eat, and whether we’ll need to work, to alien invasions and attempts to colonize space (and the ocean floor). Complete surveillance or utter lawlessness? Suicide pills or climate-controlled paradise?

It’s a brilliantly simple concept (OK, deceptively simple, too), cogently executed with near deadpan sincerity, and often very funny. It was also a great way to kick off the Carnegie Museums’ series Strange Times: Earth in the Age of the Human. The four-month, 10-event program features performances, talks and presentations that ask, as the Carnegie puts it, “Will we survive ourselves?”

I’m still mulling over Tomorrow’s Parties (with its title's wry Velvet Underground reference), but part of what I found fascinating was the way it played with how any scenario of the future someone wants to spin always seems at least vaguely plausible, if only because it invariably feels like an extrapolation of some half-remembered news item about gene-splicing, pandemic disease, mass extinction or space travel.

“The future,” in other words, is this repository for all our hopes and fears, and Lowdon and Marshall (working from a concept co-devised by them with Forced Entertainment's other four troupe members) bring out the myriad of ways it teases, taunts and scares us.

The stage is a pair of stacked wooden pallets, dressed with a simple and sad string of fairground lights. There’s no music or other effects, and Lowdon and Marshall are costumed like your suburban in-laws stopping by after church. Over the course of the evening, subtle flashes of interplay emerge between the two actors, suggesting how one’s personality influences how one sees the future.

But what’s perhaps most plangent about Tomorrow’s Parties is that there’s never any sense that the future is something we can make, or even change: It’s just something, for good or ill, that will happen, and we’ll have to live in, or with.

Forced Entertainment plays the Hazlett again tonight, but with a different show. Real Magic, the troupe’s newest, looks to be a rather more antic work, a largely comedic piece about “optimism, individual agency and the desire for change.”

Real Magic starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12-15 and are available here.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

Strange Times continues on Feb. 16 with Big Farms Make Big Flu, an evening with visiting author Rob Wallace and Carnegie Mellon University art professor Richard Pell (founder of the Pittsburgh-based Center for PostNatural History), who’ll discuss the drawbacks of globalized food systems.

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