Saturday, July 30 , 2016, 4:12 pm | Fair 75º

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Review: Casey Caldwell Puts New Spin on Storytelling in ‘Laws of Motion’

The founder of Ratatat Theater Group intertwines the lives of historical figures with his own in the new one-man show

Casey Caldwell’s original one-man show, Laws of Motion, presented last weekend at Westmont College, is difficult to describe. It was not difficult to watch or to enjoy, nor do I feel any reservation in praising it highly. But attempting a coherent description seems like a dicey proposition at best.

And yet, here I go.

It would be misleading to describe Laws of Motion as a play, in that it contains very few of the elements we associate with a play — a darkened theater, a stage, lighting, actors portraying characters, a plot arc with a beginning, middle and end. And yet it is a very fine evening’s entertainment — educational and emotionally evocative.

How about this: Imagine you’re going to hear a lecture by your favorite professor, the one who is funny, charming and manages to make each class feel like a great session of storytelling. Imagine this professor invites you to hear a special lecture intertwining the stories of Abraham, Sir Isaac Newton, Friedrich Nietzsche and a young boy who is trying very hard to decide what he wants to be when he grows up.

Oh, and that he will also include a few stories about his own colorful life. And ask members of the audience to draw pictures with crayons to be woven into the presentation. And jump up onto the tables once in awhile and walk around.

That is about the best I can do.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, sitting at several long tables with those crazy attached chairs in a lecture hall brightly lit with overhead fluorescent bulbs and whiteboards covering the opposite wall, we waited. Caldwell, 25, trim and boyishly handsome, wearing a white button-down shirt tucked into black trousers, and barefoot, strolled to the front of the room and introduced himself, then Mary Plant-Thomas, who sat to one side with a sheaf of papers on a clipboard.

He explained that periodically he would be asking her to prompt him as to what came next as she followed along in the script. And he did, simply pausing from time to time to ask, “Next?” He pointed out the sections of the room where he would be stationed while telling the stories of the various characters. Throughout the evening, the whiteboard filled up with quotes, figures and drawings pertaining to those individuals, each in his own section.

At one point, Caldwell stopped, confused, and turned to Mary: “Did I skip something?” She nodded, and filled him in on which sections had been missed. His poise in this situation was admirable. He let himself be vulnerable in that he acknowledged the error, murmuring “Oh, dear” a few times. But his confidence never seemed to waver, and he took it all in stride very calmly, even seeming somewhat amused. Nothing instills trust in an audience like this approach.

Caldwell is a director, actor and writer, and is head of Ratatat Theater Group. He graduated from Westmont College in 2008. In 2010, after creating and performing an earlier version of this piece, titled Comma Comma Full Stop, he decided he wanted to expand upon it. Dana Alexander at Westmont’s Office of Life Planning showed an interest and agreed to sponsor performances of Laws of Motion on the campus. As it addresses issues of pondering one’s life path and achieving one’s destiny, it seemed worthwhile for students.

Caldwell describes Abraham, Newton and Nietzsche as men of faith, certainty and freedom, respectively. Surely we can all use more of these in our lives. And surely we know the challenge of trying to plot a path in life. It seems apparent then that this piece of theater is worthwhile for all of us.

Oh, there was one recognizable element of theater included — original music and creative sound effects by Greg Wadsworth contributed greatly to the atmosphere, giving the production polish, even under fluorescent lights.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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