The Life and Times of Durham's Own Daedalus, Jaybird O'Berski, on the Eve of Little Green Pig's Wildest Theatrical Maze Yet | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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The Life and Times of Durham's Own Daedalus, Jaybird O'Berski, on the Eve of Little Green Pig's Wildest Theatrical Maze Yet 

click to enlarge Jaybird O'Berski(right) and crew prepping for This Is Not a Novel.

Photo by Alex Boerner

Jaybird O'Berski(right) and crew prepping for This Is Not a Novel.

Walking into the warren of untenanted storefronts beside the Scrap Exchange, I find them anything but vacant. The corridor inside teems with hurried industry and strange tableaux—a mad scientist's lab here, a sort of Viking vanity table there. Someone carrying a large, ridiculous bird puppet scurries by. Flickering lights beckon from the doors lining the corridor, so I go in.

In one room, dark but for a single bulb, a sleeping man wakes up when I clap my hands. He scribbles a poem in an old book, rips out the page, hands it to me, and goes back to sleep. In another, a woman bathed in a projector beam entangles herself in hanging vines. On the floor of a tiny movie theater nearby, polystyrene peanuts pile in ankle-deep drifts, trailing from my shoes as I enter a brightly lit alcove where taut wires draw the air into a vanishing point.

The straight line of the path breaks down as I move deeper in, crisscrossing twisting halls and cavernous chambers, through increasingly elaborate vistas and interactions. Space breaks down, too, as drop ceilings give way to open ductwork. In these restricted areas of commercial architecture, a delicious forbiddenness steals in. I feel like the protagonist of a postmodern novel, lost, fragmenting among the exposed guywires of narrative convention. By the time I'm suddenly spit back out into the night, somewhere other than where I'd entered, a dream logic has taken hold, and a single strand of lights floating in the darkness leads me up a flight of metal stairs and into another level of the labyrinth.

This is a maze without a Minotaur, but it does have a Daedalus. He's identifiable by the headset he wears as he swoops through his creation, consulting with the dozens of actors and artists behind Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern's most ambitious, most challenging, and, strangely, most accessible adventure yet.

The company has been a force in local theater for more than a decade, and its artistic director, Jaybird O'Berski, has been one for twice that long. He's done things like this before, but never on such a monumental scale. This Is Not a Novel, derived from a tetralogy of books by the obscure but esteemed David Markson, is billed as "a delirious playscape for adults," which sounds fanciful but turns out to be the plainest description possible.

It's part visual puzzle box (think Joseph Cornell writ large), part living art space (think Elsewhere in Greensboro), and part immersive theater à la the New York sensation Sleep No More. It's an irrational maze, more existential than physical, the exit retreating to some abstract distance. It's a little scary, but not in a scary way. It makes you want to hold hands with someone, like children striding into a fairy tale, lusty for wonder and danger.

Such literary fancies are encouraged by the audio issuing from my phone, a chorus of voices quoting writers, artists, and philosophers, with valences but no apparent order. The installation is only half-finished, but there's enough to keep me transfixed for well over an hour. I leave with a head full of visions—a couple trysting on a mattress, a glowing wall of specimen jars, a silhouette in an inflatable cube, a corde lisse dancer—and pockets full of paper scraps. There's an index card that says "to write," a dictionary page with "The center of the earth is a procrastinating engine" inked on a picture of a curlew, and a tract that describes the electrifying space between brilliance and buffoonery that Little Green Pig makes its own.

"The new thing that this artist wants to create is more than a painting," the tract says. "It is more than a sculpture. It is life itself. Or it's a piece of trash. Or it's both at the same time."

More by Brian Howe

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