Shana Carroll Invites Us to Join a Theater Revolution
by Patricia L. Morin
“Passengers,” written, directed, and choreographed by Shana Carroll, entices us to care about the performance artists on stage. We feel for the lady tying herself up in long, silky cloth ribbons high above us, then sliding suddenly back to earth—as we gasp. But we also are thrilled as acrobats whirl through the air on a trapeze, flipping into each other’s arms.
“Passengers” connects nine travelers and us, on a train ride to destinations uknown. We are not certain if “We are going to a new place or leaving an old place.” But in Shana Carroll’s fusion of many art forms— circus, high wire, dance, music, drama—we are pulled into a wonderful transformation of theater, itself.
Scenic Designer Ana Cappelluto’s stark setting includes metal chairs as passenger seats and metal bellman luggage carts where suitcases and performers slip in and out. A huge video screen provides ever-changing black and white scenes of fields and sky, flashing by at breath-taking speeds. Our feelings and thoughts sway like the trapeze artists.
The nine passengers sit facing us, then they pop up on a rhythmic beat, and we are off on the adventure. When the train stops, hectic movement fills the stage. Amidst their luggage, passengers become ballet dancers—moving over and under each other and into the air. They greet and help each other, becoming a community.
Hula Hoops twirl around one woman’s body, and the group runs in syncopation to catch the train. Then, like a gliding swan, a lady gracefully pirouettes around the passengers, searching, as the sounds of violins fill the theater; an image of her face is displayed on the screen. We can feel her longing. We know that feeling. We become united with the person, unusual feelings for acrobats and circus performers whose goals are to thrill us with danger.
I am amazed how they blend the music and the movement into multiple meanings. Even the most amazing acrobat is always supported and uplifted higher by eight others.
One performer explains the difference between the speed of the train and lightning strikes. Two others comically try to understand, as we do—then lightning strikes in the background. Their interactions form connections between people and performance, as they add songs and personal stories. They involve us in their sensual dance steps, sometimes a hair’s breadth away from a kiss.
Music Director Colin Gagné’s harmonic expressions expand the powerful emotions of every scene, every acrobatic illusion. Together with Carroll’s choreography, the images and the dangers excite and fascinate.
Like the passengers, we constantly cross borders, as if from sleep to waking. I wonder if each stop is sleep and each train trip an illusion, or vice-versa. Yet, we walk with a boy on the rails of the train tracks as he builds his love for his future acrobatic art, another border-crossing.
All the actors, with their amazing feats and marvelous talents give spectacular performances. I am in awe. And like a symphony, each viewer comes away with a unique revelation. You will never forget “Passengers”—a must see.
“Passengers” –a production by The 7 Fingers; directed, written, and choreographed by Shana Carroll; musical director Colin Gagné, scenic design by Ana Cappelluto, at American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco. Info: ACT-SF.org – to October 9, 2022.
Cast: Kaisha Dessalines-Wright, Beto Freitas, Marco Ingaramo, Nella Niva, Mandi Orozco, Santiago Rivera, Dina Sok, Andrew Sumner, and Méliejade Tremblay-Bouchard.
Banner photo: “Passengers,” the ensemble. Photos by Kevin Berne