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Tidy Aphrodite

AMERICAN THEATRE

December 1, 2006

There’s nothing like reaching a milestone for prompting arts organizations to dig up the past. For San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and A.C.T. – both celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year – that means co-producing a play about archeology. In Luminescence Dating, a new drama by playwright and A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff receiving its West Coast premiere at the Magic at the end of this month, three Ivy League archeologists become entangled in a mystery involving the pink, terracotta limb of an Ancient Greek statue, 122 very small, dented helmets, and several Ziploc bags filled with Cypriot dirt.

Taking its title from the scientific process that determines the age of clay objects by discovering when they were last heated, Luminescence Dating concerns archeologist Angela Hart’s quest to locate the remains of a famous statue of the Goddess Aphrodite that vanished without a trace sometime during or after the 4th century B.C. When the real Aphrodite shows up in Angela’s basement laboratory (in the shape of a kvetching, elderly cleaning lady,) the archeologist soon finds out that there’s more to her obsession with the Goddess of Love than exhuming antique pottery shards.

Part mystery, part romance, and part science play (the work was commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Science & Technology Project,) Luminescence Dating views ancient history as a battleground upon which competing ideas about objectivity and subjectivity, intellect and emotion, and love and loss fight for supremacy. Like primitive artifacts gradually surfacing in an archeological dig, the play has developed considerably since its first staging at New York’s Ensemble Studio Theater in Spring 2005. “Carey likes to do re-writes,” says director Mark Rucker, who has been working in close collaboration with Perloff in preparation for Luminescence Dating’s San Francisco debut. “The play is just a blueprint for performance,” says Perloff. “As in archeology, it excavates itself every time I go back to it.”

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