Jerry Mouawad doesn't much seem to care whether audiences understand his work. Though he is the co-creator of the immediately accessible Frogz and Biglittlethings, Mouawad's shows for adults are often opaque, leaving viewers puzzling over what they've just seen. It's an attitude I like in a director, and it has served his recent series of "Operas Beyond Words"—short, movement-based plays without dialogue—quite well. The first three of the series expanded on a simple concept with an ambiguous narrative: bees as military; missile crisis as dinner party; typing school as prison. In Mouawad's latest work, though, I sensed that there was a plot to be followed, but could not find it, leaving me less intrigued than befuddled.
Stage Left Lost begins backstage at a theater during a production of Othello, which the audience observes from seats behind the curtain at stage left. Actors assemble, are pushed around by an anxious stage manager and prepare for the performance. Two of them, including the actress playing Desdemona, have been recently married. Then something goes terribly wrong: During the murder scene, Desdemona actually winds up dead. What ensues could be a play within a play or maybe just a play, as a man is convicted of the killing and the fallout of the horrible deed wrecks a few more lives; it's easy enough to follow, right up until the end, when there's a transition I just do not understand and the plot I'd constructed collapsed. It was baffling.
That said, the show is pretty great. Mouawad's wordless version of Desdemona's murder is more effectively staged than most spoken productions I've seen. The parade of seduction and suicide and menacing ghosts that follows it has the quality of a really engrossing dream with a particularly good sound track. The cast, which includes Matthew Dieckman and Carol Triffle, conveys the action of each scene lucidly. So what if the links between those scenes are obscure? A little bafflement is no reason to miss this show, and plenty of reason to see it twice.
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave., 231-3959. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Nov. 21. $10-$12.