“We live and die rationally and productively.”
Anthony Black’s Invisible Atom from the 2b theatre company takes place in a heartbeat: Black’s hand walks across a bridge, bends its knees and leaps. And hangs. It, he, and we are suspended in this moment, a moment poised between life and death, positive and negative, movement and stasis. According to Henri Bergson, time is indivisible, even in its nature of construction, and the Atom plays with this notion of stopping it, owning a frozen moment. But, as Black points out, this performance is impossible: “After all, who can own time?”
The rest of the play follows the events that lead to the bridge, from Atom’s adoption to meeting his partner to having a baby to abandoning his job for his search for a place in the universe. He takes us from his swank, stock-market financed apartment to London in search of his ruthless, biological father. All is peppered with ruminations on capital, physics, existentialism, and love. Atom seems to have become the Every-One-Dimensional Man of Marcuse, alienated from work, seamlessly woven into his family and social life. He is a man who has followed his path blindly, almost pre-determined, and the opportunity to chart his history leads to a chain of events that end at the beginning, hovering a foot away from the bridge, overlooking an inevitable demise.
The staging of Atom is quite wonderful: Black spends most of the performance stuck on a three-by-three foot platform, lending the piece a its claustrophobic feel, not to mention its relation to being raised up, hovering, with no way off but to leap. Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting design is the piece’s largest asset—specific, fragmented, and divisive. Often Atom is only partially lit, divided piece by piece by the external forces that rule and command him. It plays amazingly with the false consciousness of indivisibility, progress, and outdated science. More of the innovative staging and lighting would have added quite a punch to the piece. Instead, the story, while intelligently crafted and honestly performed by Black, is a bit stodgy and cliché for our time. The alienation of man, in the finance sector no less, is too vague and well-worn to land any sort of visceral punch. Marx, Camus, and Marcuse are long gone, and Invisible Atom never really gets specific or timely enough to make its presence relatable. It’s an awful feeling to have come along on such a journey, when a man’s life is at an end, and to feel so little as he falls.