March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Surrealism and spur-of-the-moment improvisation are on view at area theaters

Jos Rivera’s “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” is not the bawdy comedy its title seems to imply. It is, according to director and Michigan State University Theatre Professor Melissa C. Thomson, an “intense and passionate” piece for those open to a non-traditional theater experience.

“At its very basis, we have a woman (Gabriella) who is waiting for her husband (Benito) to come home from Iraq,” Thomson explained. “And she is concerned about trying to figure out whether or not he’s still going to be the man she actually married (when he returns home).

“It is not so much a political statement about war, but rather very much about the intense and devastating effects that it has on individual people and their relationships with each other. ”

Expressing the interior concerns of Gabriella — namely danger and desire — design elements in Acts One and Four reflect specific, iconic Dali paintings, such as the desert landscape from “Two Pieces of Bread Expressing a Sentiment of Love.” Acts 2 and 3 contrast surrealism with "hyper-reality."

But what about the ever-popular melting clocks? Thompson said that the clocks did not fit the visual landscape that they were trying to create, although they are verbally referenced. “In terms of the (visual) design that we set up, I basically just said, ‘Absolutely no melting clocks!’’’

Other characters in the play are a talking cat, a moon that plays the violin and cacti that move progressively closer to the house.
Thompson said although it was a challenge reflecting surrealistic elements in a way that was still accessible to the audience, the point was also to challenge the audience to see things from a different perspective.

"The surrealistic world bypasses the brain and accesses the place directly in the body. So there might not be things that we understand logically, but there are things that we understand in our hearts and in our gut. I think that’s what the surrealistic landscape does," she said.

Significant sexual content means that the show is for adults only. You don’t need to be familiar with Dali to appreciate the show, but you should be open-minded, Thompson said. “If you open yourself up to the experience, I think you end up coming away with something that has a very different effect — a visceral impact that we don’t necessarily get from more traditional versions of theater.”

'References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot'
Michigan State University Auditorium
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, Wednesday, April 20, and Thursday, April 21; 8 p.m. Friday, April 22; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23
$8 all seats

Ruhala Performing Arts Center artistic director Mark Ruhala is the master of ceremonies for "Just Clownin’ Improv!," performed by Ruhala Center students. Ruhala believes that pure improvisation comes from the unknown, albeit within the structure of a sketch.

"They really don’t know anything of what I’m gonna do. I always keep that as a given, even in classes," he said. "For me, the art of improvisation really should be that. Sometimes you see improvisation and it has so much structure that you don’t get a real sense of spontaneity."
Although the actual dialogue will be completely improvised, Ruhala said that he envisions the show being broken up into thirds.
“There will be a musical section with our musical director Jeff English, there will be a section that will be more physical-based theater and physical improvisations and pantomimes and then the (last) third of it will be verbal scenes, dialogues, and monologues and that sort of thing,” he said.
From improvised lyrics over well-known melodies to pantomime in the style of a silent film, Ruhala said that he will pick ideas based on how the audience is responding. Without a rigid structure, Ruhala said the performance could last anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes.
“Just Clownin’ Improv!” promises “adult humor” so parents are advised to keep the very young ones at home.

'Just Clownin' Improv!'
Ruhala Performing Arts Center
1846 Haslett Road, East Lansing
7 p.m. Saturday, April 16
$10 adults, $8 children 12 and under
(517) 337 -0464