Review: INNOMINATE at Catastrophic Theatre is a dazzling mix of dance and theater
I have been struggling with how to approach INNOMINATE as a reviewer ever since I saw the show on its opening night. It’s difficult to describe, because this theatrical piece relies more on senses and feelings than words or narratives. Describing it is like trying to recall a fever dream, or relate one of those nonsensical stream of conscious episodes in the night that are driven by memories and emotional scars. It is something you experience as well as watch. Catastrophic Theatre always challenges their audiences, and this is no exception. INNOMINATE is a mixture of dance, puppets, images on a screen, live music, and daring staging to tell the story of creator Afsaneh Aayani as she immigrated from war torn Iran to the United States. It also deals with the effects of the COVID pandemic and extreme loss. If I told you all of this was illustrated with dancing eyeballs and social media posts whizzing by, would you believe me?
Afsaneh Aayani is the driving force behind INNOMINATE, and it is her creation through and through. Rather than using the stage to recite a monologue of endless words, she has chosen to use her artistic skills all at once to create a tornado of emotions and images. Adam Castaneda helps with the choreography, and Hessam Diampour accompanies with music, but there is a sense this is a one woman vision. The actress commits to her tale, and her reactions and journey are felt throughout the house at every turn. It is one of the bravest performances you will witness. And yet Afsaneh is not performing in a void.
There is a dance company behind our lead, and they have to perform the entire show with large headpieces that are made to look like eyes blocking all peripheral vision. They create a Greek chorus, and meld into one like all great dance performers manage to do. Wisely they are given interpretative moves that can be executed with these constraints, but it still is an impressive feat and one of the most amazing parts of the show. Video images, sound design, and the set all play as other characters in this production. Most of the story is relayed through pre-recorded disembodied voices or even through social media posts flashed continuously on the screen behind the performers. You have never seen this kind of inventive staging that uses every inch of the performance space up to and including the audience’s chair risers.
Critiquing a show that is felt rather than heard is an impossible task. What I can tell you is the story is a moving one, and certainly timely given the current state of the world. War, the pandemic, the plight of immigrants, and the horror of sharing your tragedies on social media are all themes that shine through without any spoken words or songs. INNOMINATE is movement that moves you, and that is the only way to look at it. The show is one of the most original things in a theater produced in Houston, and indeed hard to name. It is certainly worth the journey with Afsaneh Aayani.
INNOMINATE runs through JUNE 19th at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. COVID protocols for this performance require that all patrons wear a mask throughout the performance. The show only runs just over an hour, and is performed without intermission.