A young boy hatches from a sky blue egg. A magical fish grants three wishes. A red-faced devil forces a man to eat his child. Saturn’s Wake contains striking imagery and imaginative writing. The use of movement and music lends the performance piece a surreal air. And yet, somehow, all of this does not quite make for a theatrically compelling experience.
Created and performed by Deke Weaver and Michael Farkas, the show is a hodge-podge of mythical references. One of the primary sources of inspiration is Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Children”; a reproduction of that gothic masterpiece hangs on the wall of Mark Rosenblatt’s cluttered set. Numerous references are made to Saturn throughout the show and, at one point, a character transforms into an incarnation of the god known for devouring his own children to prevent any of them from claiming the throne.
The narrative of Saturn’s Wake centers around two orphan brothers, Dana and Johnny. Weaver plays both roles, although Farkas occasionally substitutes as Dana when the two characters engage in dialogue. The world they inhabit is a strange cityscape filled with flea-infested strip clubs and doors that cannot be found without the key. (It’s hard to explain.) Johnny leaves his brother to go work on a fishing boat, and then 20 years pass as Dana waits on the dock for his brother’s return with only his dog, Mr. Greenjeans, to keep him company. Eventually, Dana is taken in by Kenny (Farkas), a man who owns a gigantic pet rat. Johnny briefly comes back into Dana’s life to give him an extra wish that was granted to him by a magical fish, then leaves as mysteriously as he appeared.
Attending Saturn’s Wake, it’s best to go with the flow and accept that there are large discontinuities in the plot. The text, written by Weaver with music composed by Farkas, dabbles in magical realism and seems aimed at creating a particular mood more than anything else. Unfortunately, that’s where the piece itself comes up short. It starts out well enough as Farkas enters playing some kind of musical instrument, strikes a match, and lights a candle held by Weaver, who is huddled on the floor and draped in a blanket made of newspapers. Farkas then recedes to the side of the stage and begins to utilize an assortment of objects — banjos, glass bottles, etc. — to create musical accompaniment for Weaver’s spoken text.
However, Weaver turns out to be less compelling as a performer than as a writer. His vocal inflections never seem to capture the emotional texture of his words, and he relies on superficial mannerisms to establish character. Also, while the voices that he gives the two brothers are initially distinct, they start to sound more and more alike as the show goes on. Farkas fares better, and his characterization of the magical fish is quite amusing.
When the performers forego words and rely only on music and movement, there are occasional flashes of brilliance. One of the most riveting sequences is a choreographed routine in which the two wield sticks, stomp on the ground, and cry out in non-verbal anguish as Dana and Kenny ritually enact the beating to death of a young boy who dared to insult them.
It’s a shame that this kind of energy does not infuse the rest of the production, which has been collaboratively directed by Jill Samuels. Pacing is slow throughout most of the performance, and the use of video (designed by Weaver) fails to bring to life the fantastical elements of the piece. Despite the talents of its creators, Saturn’s Wake is unable to fully realize its imaginative realm.