"I love thinking about time in a trippy way and what it means to be outside of time," says Connor Kizer by way of introducing the ideas percolating through his new play, Chronotony, which debuts this week. Ask him what he means by "trippy" and you get an impromptu rundown of familiar late-20th-century writings that explore thinking about the experience of reality in different ways. The Wham City member, former Santa Dad, and writer/playwright starts with Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, that great American young-adult gateway drug to nonlinear thinking. He says Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless, the fifth book of The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy series, encouraged him to consider how parallel universes might work. There was Robert Anton Wilson's time-jumping and consciousness-expanding The Illuminatus! and Cosmic Trigger trilogies, and Neal Stephenson's Anathem, which offered a primer on quantum mechanics' many-worlds ideas.
Sitting in a booth in a Station North coffee shop, he runs through his own personal conception of time at the moment before adding that it might be unprintable. Conceptually, it isn't unprintable-in short: multiple possibilities of multiple timelines stacked in multiple dimensions, sort of a like an n-dimensional meatloaf-but it is excessive. Chronotony is about one very specific experience of time, and he's just rattled off so many different concepts, you feel like you've just asked an Inuit speaker what the word for "snow" is. Kizer adds sheepishly, almost as a punch line: "I've been thinking about time for a very long time."
Long is the operative word in relation to Chronotony. The play is a short script made epic and explores experiencing all of time in one moment as horror. How the production aims to achieve that impression is pretty clever. Kizer wrote it when he and fellow Wham City member Adam Endres were thinking of organizing a 10-minute-play festival-type event for horror stories. The event fell through, but Kizer had written and cast his entry, a nine-page script in which Percy (Rjyan Kidwell) stares into the Shining Trapezohedron, an ancient artifact that reveals all of time to him in an instant.
Kizer had been reading H.P. Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark," which contains a Shining Trapezohedron that reveals all of space and time to whomever stares into it, and it sounded terrifying to him. "I viewed the horror of that being, if you're looking at all time, it's always now," Kizer says. "You're trapped in that moment where you're looking at it."
His play only takes about 15 minutes to run through, but the script begins and ends on the exact same stage image and line. Kizer says it was Kidwell who had the idea to loop it: perform it over and over again.
That little addition has turned a short play about all of time at once into a curious experiential installation. Chronotony will run as a loop for three hours on both nights of its staging; audience members can come in and check it out anytime between 8 and 11 p.m., and stay as long as it takes to grasp what's going on.
This looping has brought wrinkles to the play that Kizer is enjoying. He acknowledges that his script is a tad confusing and that going through it multiple times adds clarity. He mentions that he's a fan of American sci-fi author Gene Wolfe, whose The Book of the New Sun can be appreciated anew each time it's read. "You learn so much stuff [about its world] from reading it, so you immediately go back and read it again," Kizer says. "You start over and it's a completely different book. We're trying to do that with this play."
It's an oddly enticing gambit, treating theater like a video/film in a gallery, with the added variable that the performers themselves aren't simply acting, but-like the Acme Corporation actors who performed Beckett's Play for 12- and 24-hour stretches last year-they're involved in an endurance piece. Deviations from the script aren't planned, but as anybody who has ever done piecework labor before knows, it's nearly impossible to do the exact same thing over and over and over again.
And Kizer is hoping the production is able to convey that sense of desolation. "I think the play is really going to make the audience feel like the main character," he says. "The audience chairs are going to be a yard apart, so you're going to have a sense of isolation. You might come in with other people, but you're not going to stay until the end of the play. So at some point, you'll think, It's time to leave, but you can't just lean over to the guy and next to you and say, 'Let's get out of here.' So you are trapped in this play that is happening forever, and that's exactly what [Percy] is doing. That's my hope, anyway."
Chronotony, by Connor Kizer, is at EMP Collective May 3 and 4.