The Million Bells of Ocean | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Million Bells of Ocean 

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THE MILLION BELLS OF OCEAN, American Theater Company. Human beings and sentient household objects happily coexist in Edward Mast's off-kilter, hypertheatrical world. In fact that's probably the most realistic aspect of The Million Bells of Ocean, which introduces a barrage of absurdities: street gangs conversing in ancient Aztec tongues, earwigs delivering edicts from the heavens. Encouraging the audience to get caught up in a series of theatrical mind games, Mast constantly sets up expectations, then gleefully topples them. Wrapped in his layers of artifice, however, is a painfully honest story of three generations of men coming to terms with one another. This is a rare work necessitating multiple readings, as fascinating for its metatheatrical dismantling of the Western canon as for its simple meditation on the nature of creativity.

American Theater Company's production captures the playful intensity of Mast's work without resorting to smoke and mirrors; every image is packed with meaning. B. Emil Boulos's and Carol Cox's functional designs give director Brian Russell and his strong cast endless opportunities: ocean waves are created out of giant rolls of blue fabric, flexible plastic tubing is used to mimic a twisting road, and a giant sculpture (which the aging, self-absorbed father figure has been tinkering with throughout the performance) is transformed into a sacrificial altar. After two hours The Million Bells of Ocean continues to capture the imagination, even when it ceases to resonate on an emotional level.

--Nick Green

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