In the late ’90s, New Paradise Laboratories left Virginia Tech and headed to Philadelphia — which had a theater community that, company members felt, was ripe for bold experiments. How right they were.
Using Philly as its home base, NPL has risen to international acclaim. With 13 works in the same number of years, it’s explored an idiosyncratic brand of hallucinogenic theater, often tapping into themes of sexuality, the ’60s and utopian communities.
And its latest, “27,” encapsulates all three — it’s classic NPL. Except for one small thing: None of the NPL members actually appear in “27.” With company members scattered across the country — and others starring in other Live Arts Festival shows — “27” represents a turning point.
Director Whit MacLaughlin has attempted to teach a cast of newbies the NPL way in just three short months.
“This is old-school, the way we used to do it,” says MacLaughlin. “There’s something to be said for being careful and letting things settle. But there’s also something to be said for flash floods.”
The play takes place in the afterlife, as a group of recently deceased young rockers — members of the infamous “27 club” who died before reaching the age of 28 — grapple with their new surroundings.
“Around 27 you’ve got your backpack on, and you’re trying to figure out what you need to carry forward and what you’re going to leave behind,” says MacLaughlin. “I’m not sure this piece has much wisdom to impart about that, except a sort of appreciation of [young artists’] brilliance, and an anxiety about the passage of time. We can all relate to that.”