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To accurately explain Cloud Tectonics — the premiere production of The New Theatre Project’s first full season, written by José Rivera — is akin to explaining a dream. Viewers who like concrete explanations for things would be well served to keep this in mind: after all, metaphysical impossibilities that are nevertheless accepted as fact are frequent features of the dream world. As directed by associate artist Ben Stange, this one-act production is appropriately dreamy, presenting a mere capsule of an unfamiliar existence that still manages to feel comfortably familiar and sound a deep emotional knell.

In a very specific place at a less-specific time, Anibal de la Luna (Samer Ajluni) takes pity on greatly pregnant hitchhiker Celestina del Sol (Jamie Weeder) during a rare Los Angeles downpour, bringing her home to dry off and eat and sleep. Having endlessly crossed the country in a vain search for her baby’s father, Celestina seems at first like a flighty, cagey vagabond; she doesn’t wear a watch and is dodgy at best in reference to questions about how long she's been traveling. Yet increasing clues, and finally a blatant statement of fact, takes the premise in a new direction: time behaves differently around Celestina; her pregnancy, for example, has lasted at least two years of real-world time. But the how and why of her extreme peculiarities, although addressed, are less important than the mere reality of them, and the profound sadness to which this world confines her. When one cannot distinguish a second from a minute from a year, connecting with another person becomes a tricky and ultimately fleeting enterprise.

The main thrust of the production is a long scene in which Anibal and Celestina develop a deep understanding, possibly within moments; it’s bookended by interruptions from Anibal’s brother, Nelson (Frank Gutierrez), whose brief but commanding presence provides a crucial bridge between the suspended animation of this room and the rest of the world. Ajluni manages the balance of incredulity and a dreamer’s acceptance well, but gives his best turn as an older version of Anibal, inserting gentle comedy into wistful grasping at the ether of memory. Still, Stange keeps the focus on the unchanging Celestina, and Weeder is so in control of the character, the viewer can’t help but feel the fullness of her loneliness. The concept of timelessness comes across as worse than we could fathom — sure, she’s destined to vastly outlive everyone important to her, but there’s also a perpetual incongruity with the rest of the world, an absence she is unable to grasp beyond the fact that it makes people separate themselves from her lest they lose their own relativity.

The production design, all by artistic director Keith Paul Medelis, consists of a white proscenium-like arch adrift among the white furniture and appliances of the all-white space of the Pot and Box performance venue. Here is infinity itself, aided by crisp projector work and a blanket of low reflecting light. For all intents and purposes, costume design begins and ends with Celestina’s retro-vintage ensemble, down to the sweetly outdated full underskirt, which adds a further Back to the Future–like disconnect between her and the other characters. This bit of costuming and maybe one other context clue could be taken as suggestive of an approximate year, but to the production’s credit, defining the present of this play feels completely beside the point.

This offering of The New Theatre Project is laudably successful at creating an intricate and delicate world and helping the viewer to accept and join it, implausibility and all. Although viewers generally lose track of time during shows because they’re phenomenally good or bad, in this case, it’s a feature of the concept and a demonstration of this production’s keen ability to immerse its audience in a perspective for which time is meaningless. This Cloud Tectonics deals ably with themes of love and companionship, but it’s best at making real a decided unreality and its attendant sorrows.


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