There were certain risks inherent in how Chris Seibert and Ray Bobgan went about creating Cut to Pieces, which opens this week at Cleveland Public Theatre. They started with some writings by Seibert and the idea of making a theater piece in which video plays a role in defining the characters. But they had no subject in mind when they started. There is a kind of powerlessness in waiting to see what springs from one's imagination.
"I didn't know what it was going to be about," says Bobgan. "[Seibert's] writing had been around dismemberment and the myth of Persephone in Hades, and thinking about the place of women in the world. Ultimately, over time, the story revealed itself to us. It starts as a whodunit story in a mansion in Hades, and Hades [a character as well as a place] has brought together six strange individuals and reveals that he himself is going to die. They are here for the reading of the will. When he's gone to bed, they all begin to discover body parts around the house. After that's when things get complicated. But it's actually easy to follow."
The piece had a long birthing process. Bobgan was talking with Seibert about creating a solo show four years ago, but Cleveland Public Theatre was going through some uncertainty in its artistic leadership, so at the time, they didn't expect to produce it there. Then Bobgan got the artistic director's job and Seibert became director of education. Suddenly, both were busy trying to refocus and re-invigorate the organization. In Bobgan's words, "We were totally buried."
Things have stabilized now, freeing them to take another look at their concept. Meanwhile, their idea for using video to react to the tempo of the performance received grant funding, so Siebert's raw material — combined with Bobgan's interest in using video as a storytelling device to complement live action — landed a place in CPT's season. Most of the video was shot and edited by Spencer Padilla.
At nearly two hours, Cut to Pieces is long for a one-woman show, but Bobgan thinks the video and the interplay it creates with live action will counter that. But, even a week before opening, Bobgan was still reaching to explain the piece.
"It's very personal, even if we haven't experienced everything in the show," he says. "Nothing is literally autobiographical, but some things were inspired by events. Clearly in the story, someone was raped. But it is ultimately redemptive."