CRITIPEG: Local Sky Tonight

An eye-opening cosmic journey into the limits of perspective

Last week, the latest collaborative effort from local performance art heavy-hitters Lorri Millan and Shawna Dempsey, Local Sky Tonight, was presented at the Gas Station Art Centre.

Once again, writer Millan and writer/performer Dempsey delve into where humanity has been and where it could be going with a good dose of their ultra-charming brand of feminist wit.

Dempsey ushers audiences down the rabbit hole of how the people of Earth have explained and retained the observable astronomical landscape, all while she is dressed in a dapper rabbit suit.

Armed with a laser pointer, the lustrously leporine Dempsey struts back and forth before a projection of Winnipeg’s night sky. She at once de- and re-mystifies the stars with balanced servings of fact and fable.

Painting astrophysical concepts with broad and bright strokes, the 45-minute monologue astutely and engagingly illustrates the limits of human perception on a macro- and microcosmic scale.

The duo likens humanity’s attempt to observe the universe to “not being able to see the forest when you are a speck of lichen on a tree.”

Most compellingly, they explore how humans have coped with those limitations through creative speculation.

The duo attempts to rationalize the systems of logic fashioned by the human imagination to contextualize the portion of space visible from Earth through what it finds worthy of mythologizing.

Those celestial legends conjured from ancient imaginations of the northern hemisphere reveal the perspective of the cultures from which they emerged and by which they are preserved.

A new legend lives in the scientist’s quest for the great universal constant – the search for that elegant equation that will blow open the wisdom of the cosmos.

Dempsey and Millan keep coming back to the question of perspective and its boundaries.

The creative perspective of those storytellers who anthropomorphized groups of stars and the epic stories of conflict and heroism that immortalized them are limited by cultural practice and hierarchies.

Though technology has offered ways to amplify what humans can perceive, the spectrum of what the species can tangibly process remains paltry.

Echoes of fairytales and youthful curiosity inspire dreams of seeing Local Sky Tonight performed in a planetarium. The experience would be complete with animated illustrations of the constellations and other eccentric images the script invokes.

Despite the spartan set, Dempsey and Millan inspire as many gasps of realization as comic chortles through the audience with their critical and quirky contemplations on the fallibility of fixed perspective. Informative, insightful and hilarious, Local Sky Tonight is as much a study of the skies as of the poor suckers trying to understand them.

Just think: if the legends upon which the Christian calendar hinges had been conceived in the southern hemisphere, Christmas would be in June and Easter in October. Millan and Dempsey suggest that perhaps, in one of the “ker-spillion” theoretically extant parallel universes, it is.

Published in Volume 73, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 14, 2019)

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