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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Big Old Rock
Open Eye Figure Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Dot and The Terror Fantastic

Jay Eisenberg
Photo by Maxwell Collyard
Jay Eisenberg, a rising Twin Cities theater artist whose credits include Mixed Blood, Pillsbury House, and Children's Theatre Company, has devised and performs in a small, sweet show for one actor, called Big Old Rock. Open Eye Figure Theater is currently hosting the show's premier engagement.

Eisenberg plays a would-be geologist named Nate, who loves rocks: not just the study of rocks, he really loves them—loves talking with them, tasting them, playing with them, and just hanging out with them. He feels that he and rocks share a kind of understanding. This is very gratifying for Nate, until he learns that scientists do more than merely enjoy the company of their subjects. A scientist is expected to develop a hypothesis, create experimental conditions, make observations, and report results.

The first half of Big Old Rockis composed of a continuous series of pantomime, starting when Nate emerges from a sleeping bag on stage. We are treated to such business as setting his radio dial, cycling a stationary bike to generate power in order to brew coffee, and admire his collection of rocks, all of it made funny by way of Eisenberg's charm. One rock, much larger than the others, is the subject of Nate's study, and we watch him conduct fanciful experiments (an example: putting on a gorilla mask to see if the rock becomes frightened). Nate knows that scientists study change, but rocks change very, very slowly. He wonders if there is a way to greatly speed up the process of change in rocks in order to properly study them.

In addition to his "scientific" activities, we see Nate go through the simple routines of his life with the playfulness of a puppy: he eats, he listens to relaxation-visualization tapes, he does yoga, and he reads the mail. His mail consists of a string of letters rejecting his scientific proposals, each one throwing him into despair. Finally, a letter arrives accepting his proposal and inviting him to speak at a geological summit that very evening. It is a triumph!

In the second half of Big Old Rock Nate prepares to deliver a presentation to the esteemed scientists. A "How to Prepare for a Presentation" recording includes funny business with Nate, still in pantomime, reacting to the advice being given Once Nate arrives at the geological summit, his presentation begins and for the first time he speaks, guiding his audience through a confusing maze of overhead transparencies. His talk woefully lacks scientific rigor, but he delivers it with utmost sincere and enthusiasm. He is ready to demonstrate his work for the world to see, putting his beloved rock through the process of accelerated change, not knowing what the outcome will be, but with confidence in the virtue of science. But the results come as a big surprise and force upon Nate a reckoning about what matters to him and how to best live a satisfying life. What it amounts to is learning to be—and to be happy to be—himself.

That last line makes it sound as if there is a very deep message in Big Old Rock, but the show is extremely lighthearted, and, to be honest, quite slight. It runs just 65 minutes, and even so, a good deal of time is taken up with antics that are amusing, but unrelated to the thrust of Nate's story. The first half being a pantomime, and the second half being spoken divides the whole into two distinct parts, so that the first feels like an entertaining but insubstantial curtain raiser, with the real meat concentrated in the latter half. The playful manner in which the show deals with science makes any comment about the value and nature of science, or any other deep subject, secondary to the genial pleasure of watching Eisenberg perform.

Watching Eisenberg perform is indeed a pleasure. He has a youthful spirit that radiates gladness in his every action; even in despair, we perceive the joy with which he navigates his feelings. In pantomime he conveys the satisfaction of fully experiencing everything, even the tiniest action, like the rolling up of a sleeping bag, or sipping of coffee. As the creator of the work, Eisenberg displays a great faculty with wit and whimsy, providing the kind of humor more likely to produce broad grins then belly laughs, but without a trace of cynicism or irony. The good-heartedness at the core of Eisenberg's work, both as creator and performer of the piece, transcends its modest accomplishments and minor flaws.

Director Katherine Pardue moves the show swiftly and maintains the light touch which it requires. It benefits greatly from sound design by Dan Dukich, providing the sound of mail delivery, rain, mysterious unseen scientific processes taking place, and a cool soundtrack of surfer music, including the Beach Boys and the Safaris—music that blends devotion to sheer joy with melancholy longings, an apt combination for this show.

Big Old Rock is, at the end of the day, a humble affair, pleasing and amusing, and a hint at the talent and intelligence Jay Eisenberg has to offer, which we look forward to seeing again on our stages in other mainstream productions, as well as in original work of greater heft.

Big Old Rock continues through December 23. 2017, at Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $15.00 general admission, $10.00 for seniors and students, $5.00 for children 12 and under. For tickets and information go to or call 612-874-6338.

Created by: Jay Eisenberg; Director: Katherine Pardue; Light Design: Katie Deutsch; Sound Design: Dan Dukich; Stage Manager: Brian Hirt

Cast: Jay Eisenberg (Nate)

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