A mystifying death has rattled a quaint mountainside town.
Mirroring the premise of “Twin Peaks,” an early 1990s television sensation, a troupe of local thespians has transformed the surrealism of filmmaker David Lynch into an immersive theatrical narrative at the Bok Building, 1901 S. 9th St.
Presented through the FringeArts Festival, “Red Lodge, Montana,” the brainchild of The Antidote producing collective, will take audiences on a live-action nightmare unfolding in a girls locker room of the former South Philadelphia public school.
The concept of a David Lynch-devised work started stirring in the mind of Newbold theater director Michael Osinski about two years ago.
“I have a fascination with taking seemingly classic works from literature, whether it’d be dramatic literature or something else, and smashing it up against contemporary pop culture,” Osinski said. “And, so I wanted to create some sort of entity that would be devoted to producing and making that sort of work.”
Collaborating with fellow Lynch aficionados, Osinski, who has directed dozens of plays in Philadelphia and Chicago, led a series of workshops with local actors that eventually morphed into the upcoming Fringe production.
Osinski, who is the lead artist for The Antidote, tends to gravitate toward plays that require audiences to solve some kind of conundrum – the crux of Lynch productions.
“Everyone who’s working on the project was already and still is a huge fan of David Lynch’s work, and I think one of the things we’re all drawn to about his television and film work is the idea that everything he makes is essentially a puzzle,” he said. “He sort of forgoes the need for exposition. He doesn’t really explain how things are connected to each other. It’s up to you to really get the pieces and figure out what’s going on.”
Aside from bringing Lynch knowledge to the table, Osinski asked his team to read “Bus Stop,” a 1955 play by William Inge, which would serve as an outline for the developing story.
Considering Lynch’s work is particularly ambiguous, “Bus Stop” offered some more structure in the creative process. During the workshops, Osinski had his cast study characters from both the play and Lynch’s projects to establish their own personas, which surfaced through viewpoint and improv activities.
From there, the ensemble embodied their distinctive characters while sketching a scene from the Lynch landscape.
“We talked about the different elements that we thought made up a David Lynch world,” said ensemble member Kelly McCaughan. “There’s certain sounds, certain lights, even specific colors that we saw that were repeated throughout his work…Even the cadence in which we talk to each other in the show is specific to the world.”
For the creative team, the essential goal was translating Lynch motifs from the screen to the stage.
These adaptations ranged from the settings to the script.
For instance, as Osinski describes, Lynch is not afraid to play with duration, including staying on a particular shot longer than usual. With that concept in mind, the team has actually been adjusting its script to slow down certain scenes in an effort to “preserve the sort of storytelling that Lynch does.”
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do it,” Osinski said. “I think the two biggest things that we’ve borrowed from him are the idea of sort of circuitous storytelling and the idea that often bold visuals and movement tell more story than dialogue does. I think we’re trying to create scenes that are as impactfully visually even if we don’t quite understand what’s happening in that moment, and we have to dissect it later on.”
The team also says a site-specific immersive type of performance felt especially fitting for a Lynch-inspired piece.
While looking for an unconventional stage, Osinski could see the story come to life after discovering the abandoned locker rooms at Bok. The dingy and eerie vibrations of the once-lively setting completed Osinski’s Lynch-like visions.
Leading up to the show, which runs from Sept. 7 to 15, the cast is releasing weekly videos on the FringeArts website that introduce audiences to characters while also offering some teasers.
Like Lynch’s equivocal but poignant productions, the cast says “Red Lodge, Montana” will ideally cast the same effect on audiences.
“(Lynch’s work) is so visually and aesthetically pleasing for me. I’ve never seen the type of things he does anywhere else in television or film,” McCaughan said. “And I love that, personally, I’m left feeling kind of gutted and a little confused after everything I see that he has done. I love the feeling of not knowing and the element of surprise. Anytime I’ve seen his work, I feel like I need some time to unpack it. I never quite know what his intention is and I love that.”
To learn more about the show, visit fringearts.com/event/red-lodge-montana.