NACL engages audiences

Most teenagers go through a phase in which they feel so unrelated to their surroundings, they’re certain they must be adopted. According to one recent poll, a good 20 percent of Americans suspect they’ve lived past lives. So should it be surprising that one man could feel so aligned with Charles Darwin, he fancies himself the controversial scientist’s (illegitimate) great great great great grandson?

Maybe, but then the North American Cultural Laboratory, better known as NACL, isn’t in business to show us the ordinary. The theater’s mission is simply "to cultivate the rigorous exploration of actor-generated theater as an ever-evolving art form." Its open-minded, physical approach to this has generally resulted in distinctly brave experiments that actively engage audiences.

In DARWINII: The Comeuppance of Man, an Argentinean named Cristóbal is forced to give a public apology as part of a sentence for stealing Darwin’s original manuscripts from various libraries. The play was seen last year at NACL’s Catskill Festival of New Theatre and will return Sunday at 4 p.m. to kick off the company’s summer season.

NACL moved to Highland Lake, N.Y. (about an hour and 15 minutes from Scranton) from New York City’s La MaMa in 2000. While the company creates and presents its own new material at its spacious theater – a charming, renovated church – it just as regularly presents performances by visiting artists.

An intimate, one-man show commissioned by the American Philosophical Society Museum of Philadelphia, DARWINII was written by Glen Berger (Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark) in collaboration with Brett Keyser, who performs the role of Cristobal in this Nightjar Apothecary production. Tony Brown of the Cleveland Plain Dealer called it "a bright but brooding portrayal of an unstable yet penetrating mind that mines both the antics of vaudeville and the philosophical implications of Darwinian theory." According to the producers it is a "a fresh take on some of Darwin’s ideas about the struggle for survival, sexual selection, the origin of species and the descent of man."

Keyser holds a degree in folklore and has studied performance in Denmark, Canada and at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. Based out of Philadelphia, he has been working in residence at NACL, most recently as a collaborator on EXILIO: My Life as Bolaño, with NACL co-founder Tannis Kowalchuk and a team of Mexican and Canadian artists. A devised bilingual theater creation using the life and work of Latin American writer Roberto Bolaño, American Sacred Harp Singing, and the political events that occurred in North America in 1968, the show is currently listed as "in creation," although performances were staged earlier this year in Mexico and at HERE in New York City.

He will perform with Kowalchuk in NACL’s The Little Farm Show across the region this summer and can be seen in Highland Lake in August as Mikhail Bulgakov in Laura Moran’s Stray Dog.

- alicia grega

Tickets to DARWINII are $10-20 on a sliding, pay-what-you-can scale. All are invited to attend a spaghetti dinner following the performance. The NACL Theatre is located at 110 Highland Lake Road. Call 845-557-0694 for reservations or visit for more information.

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