Bellona, Destroyer of Cities

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Performance (2010). Based on Dhalgren (1975; rev 1977; rev 2001) by Samuel R Delany. Adapted and directed by Jay Scheib, featuring Sarita Choudhury, Caleb Hammond, and Mikéah Ernest Jennings. Set by Peter Ksander. Videography by Carrie Mae Weems and Jay Scheib.

Bellona, Destroyer of Cities is a multimedia performance based on Samuel R Delany's mobius-like novel Dhalgren. The performance premiered at The Kitchen, an innovative avante-garde playhouse, in New York City, 1 April 2010. The novel, pronounced unreadable by such sf luminaries as Philip K Dick and Harlan Ellison, was adapted for the stage by director Jay Scheib of MIT as part two of a trilogy of performances entitled Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems. The trilogy began with Untitled Mars (This Title May Change) which the New York Time Out described as "an unlikely collision of scientific experiment and Philip K Dick" and World of Wires, a reinterpretation of Werner Fassbinder's sf television series Welt Am Draht (1973; vt World on a Wire).

Rather than making a direct adaptation of the novel, Scheib instead viewed Bellona as a sequel to Delany's circular text. The audience follows the Kid (Sarita Choudhury) through a perpetually shifting and decaying City with equally shifting and decaying characters. At the play's beginning a character describes the action that will follow as a rewinding – not the story viewed backwards but something new even as it revisits prior actions. The Kid is and is not Delany's Kid, and the actions (if it can be said that there are any definitive actions in Delany's text or the performance) remain focused on and around this character.

Scheib combined elements of workshopped materials, improvisation, and Delany's rich prose into a reflection of Dhalgren's own dream-like/nightmarish essence. What carried the sense of Delany's original work was a combination of set and media. Peter Ksander's set combined two ambiguous, blank walls with a decaying, industrial building within which are several playing areas, some seen and some not. The sight lines were intentionally horrible in order to occlude the action on stage. This was made up for in the videography which was displayed on a long rectangular scrim hanging at stage left. A series of camera feeds from each room revealed the action – sometimes multiple feeds, sometimes just one – taking place within. This resulted in a live yet highly mediated experience illuminating the best of Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt.

Theatre, as Scheib points out in this work, is simulation, but in the sciences simulations can have life-or-death outcomes. The three performances, according to Scheib, "set these operations in relief one against the other ... us[ing] simulation as a means of contrasting reality with theater and theater with fiction." [JGu]

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