My high-school Latin might be a little rusty but loosely translated “Termen Vox Machina” means “Termen and the Voice in the Machine.” And yet, it might as well stand for “easy to describe, harder to explain.” I won’t claim a complete understanding of the meaning of the new one from Oracle Theatre—and after a reported six-month hiatus for “company development” that still has not produced a working mission statement for the group, perhaps they themselves don’t fully understand—but I can say that whatever it means, it has great stage value, succeeds spectacularly and proves Oracle to be one of the most technically gifted and fiercely ambitious theater companies around. With “Machina,” based on the life of Lev Termen (aka Léon Theremin), the famous Russian scientist, spy and inventor of the electronic musical instrument bearing his name, Oracle has taken an elusive and ambiguous science-fiction radio drama originally written by MDeegan and performed by a Los Angeles theater troupe (the seven-episode podcast is still available for streaming on the Internet), and applied their trademark technological finesse while preserving the source material’s strong aural presence (the remarkable atmospheric score and film noir underscoring is by composer Jonathan Guillen)—very much in the way a good music video might serve a great song. If you’re a fan of Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz, or Joe Frank, or any of the quasi-theological spoken-word radio serials, albeit with a hint of science-fiction romance and a heaping of retro Cold War espionage politics, you won’t be disappointed. You may experience information overload, as “Machina”’s dense and unconventional narrative is brought to life by director Max Traux’s assaulting visuals, as well as an eight-person cast—appearing live on stage, via video projection or as a hologram—who mouth and pantomime the pre-recorded soundtrack with astonishing technical precision. Four days later, I’m still haunted by its sound, provoked by the imagery and convinced that a second visit could reap richer intellectual rewards. In an age when most plays are out of your head by the time you’ve ordered the appetizer to your post-show dinner, that’s saying a hell of a lot. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Oracle Theatre, 3809 N Broadway, (773)244-2980. Thu-Sat 8pm/Sun 7pm. $18. Through Aug 3.