A year ago Karim Muasher was part of the group Giant Bird that came to the 2009 Cincy Fringe to tell the story of the Empire of Feathers, a mythic world in which a quest was undertaken to find a rare bird. This time around, Muasher is back in a solo piece to tell a “spoken-word, multi-media bedtime story” set in a more elemental, mythic world illustrated by crude Nintendo graphics and electronic audio effects.
Muasher comes onstage as a nervous man in a khaki suit wearing oversized, black frame glasses. He peers at the audience, awkwardly adjusts his suit coat, then begins to speak too closely through a microphone, as if this is a new experience for him. He identifies himself as “The Historian” and sets out to deliver his “short lecture.” It’s a tale of long-past universe — he calls it the “Oldverse” — where babies made of ice were the inhabitants who mostly sleep.
But two of them, Pixel and Bit (a boy and a girl), become close and “ROMANCE” ensues, as the Historian reminds us archly, using a close and profound voice through his echoing microphone. The pair marries and finds jobs (he’s the “astronomer-general” and she’s the poet laureate). But then the atmosphere changes — things heat up and fires threaten the existence of the Oldverse. Despite Bit’s objections, Pixel sets out on a quest across space and time to address the challenges. He goes beyond the edge of his universe and meets ... the Historian, who himself becomes a pixilated image on the screen. (Muasher cleverly edges up to and behind the projection screen and coordinates his movement to coincide with the primitive screen image of himself.)
Pixel’s quest doesn’t achieve its desired result and the Oldverse disappears, only to form a “Newverse” from its ashes (at least 10 pounds of them) which might be our own but is certainly that of the Historian.
If this all sounds a tad silly, it is. And it’s intended to be. Gentle, studied humor is a component of Muasher’s method, but the story he tells has the feeling of a fable, of a creation myth delivered in a manner that’s quirky and odd. But it’s strangely compelling, too.
At the end of his “short lecture” (the piece is a bit under 50 minutes), the Historian does what Pixel pleads for — he “saves” him. But it’s in a multiple-meaning sense: Pixel is saved as you would save a file on your computer, recorded and sampled, reduced to an image on a piece of paper. It’s a clever extension and resolution of the two-dimensional “world” of Nintendo graphics, perhaps a suggestion that the next iteration of a universe might have more dimensionality and texture.
The piece is allusive and elusive — intentionally so. It’s also evocative, entertaining and engaging. It’s that kind of Fringe show that pushes boundaries with simple means: a computer, a projector, a simple approach, a stylized acting method.
This show won’t be for everyone, but it will fascinate many.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)