If love can make one hour feel like one minute, can it make two years feel like 20 minutes? “Cloud Tectonics,” a play by José Rivera, explores the idea that time is relative, taking a more literal perspective on how love can alter time and thus identity.
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The creative director of Ann Arbor’s The New Theatre Project (TNTP), Keith Paul Medelis, wanted to include a play in TNTP’s first season that was revolutionary in the history of theater. Rivera’s 1995 work “Cloud Tectonics” fit the bill.
Rivera, the award-winning Puerto Rican playwright whose script for “The Motorcycle Diaries” was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2005 Academy Awards, is known for his innovative theatrical use of “magical realism,” in which characters’ interactions are realistic, but the world in which they occur is altered.
In “Cloud Tectonics,” magical realism shapes the main character and the setting. The show takes place in Los Angeles, but it’s not the city audiences would recognize.
“It’s not an L.A. of the future, or of yesteryear, but of a different L.A. — if things had happened differently,” Medelis explained.
But it’s the play’s mysterious and magical main character, Celestina, played by local actor Jamie Weeder, who shapes the dramatic and comedic plot. She miraculously — and cursedly — doesn’t experience time like other people. When the play introduces her, she looks 25 but is 54 years old, and has been pregnant for two years.
Celestina meets Anibal, played by Dearborn actor Samer Ajluni, at a bus stop while waiting in “the storm of the century” for a bus that never seems to arrive. He gives her a ride, and their romance blossoms quickly. The twist of time begins for both of them.
“The play explains how, when you are in love, time doesn’t feel normal,” said Ben Stange, the play’s director and a 2010 alum of the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “In this case, time actually does stop.”
The two spend a night together, represented in the play by a 20-minute scene. When Anibal’s brother Nelson, played by Dearborn comic Frank Gutierrez, visits the couple, they learn that two years have passed in the outside world.
The three characters try to come to terms with the time that has passed, which reemphasizes Celestina’s problem of identity.
“She’s looking for her place in the world, because, for her, time has no meaning, the world has no meaning,” Medelis said. “She seeks to be always traveling, always hitchhiking, always waiting for that bus that doesn’t seem to be coming.
“She’s lost and looking for answer that it seems the rest of the world has.”
The first season of TNTP is themed “Identity.” Medelis also chose this play because of its prevalent questions of personal place.
Medelis explained that a lot of Rivera’s work is about what it means to be Latino in America and what he sees as a fading identity associated with their cultural heritage. It’s a theme that touches “Cloud Tectonics” as well. The play has a Spanish-language monologue, but Anibal has forgotten his first language and can’t understand.
As the play investigates the need for identity and the effects of love, it also points out that identity and love can’t be understood.
The play’s title, “Cloud Tectonics,” refers to the science of how clouds move. It is drawn from a line in the play that discusses Celestina’s need for love; understanding this necessity is “like trying to understand the anatomy of the wind or the architecture of silence or cloud tectonics,” as she says in the play.
“Cloud Tectonics” explores the relativity of time, but finds that in the complex realm of human emotion, nothing can provide all of the answers. Some things — and people — exist outside the world of natural laws.