It really is a shame there wasn't more media coverage for the brief but deserving run of The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. I saw it Saturday night and conducted a brief postshow discussion afterward with composer David Lang, librettist Mac Wellman, director Bob McGrath and Laurie Olinder and Bill Morrison, who contributed video projections and film, respectively. Based on a marvelously gnomic Ambrose Bierce short story of the same name (of about 500 words), DOCAF is what you might call a phenomenological opera. That's to say that Wellman took the few basic physical details that Bierce includes in the story--veranda, field, cigar stump, 12 slaves, flower picking, disappearance and a futile inquiry into what happened--and spins out a weirdly terrifying and baffling alternative history of pre-Civil War South. He "phenomenalizes," if you will, everything onstage, just as Richard Foreman does: Nothing is what it seems but every object resonates equally on a unified energy field. The Wellman countermythos is deliberately, even comically cryptic, but fundamentally it involves a kind of divine payback to the plantation owner via possible mystic machination by the slaves and a view of nature that is deadly hostile to compartmentalization. Historical white guilt plays a role in this adaptation of the material, sure, but that's not the whole picture. In a way, DOCAF is just a mood piece that happens to be set on a Southern plantation in 1854. And the dominant mood is dread, confusion, sorrow and an inability to choose between factual certainty and irrational instinct. Slavery, that peculiar institution, is shown to be both a rigorously rational system and an absurd abomination. Lots of layers here. The production by the Ridge Theatre was put together in less than a month but was impressively staged and performed, and Jim Findlay's attractive set did a great job literalizing the concept of a hollow or absent center: A planked square walkway had a gaping square hole in the middle, where the slaves sweated in the field. Lang's semi-minimalist music was spare, haunting, nerve-jangling and wedded perfectly to Wellman's incantatory, stringent text. Perhaps a fuller production will come to NYC someday. As for the postshow discussion, it was a bit diffuse, but Wellman was both eloquent and wryly modest and refused to fix meaning on his wriggling, shadowy words too much (he's a tyrant about opposing the tyranny of logocentric thinking). Suffice it to say, conducting talkbacks is an art I'm still learning. I'm all for preshow lectures and postshow discussions: anything to get audiences feeling more infomed & invested in the art. Next up at Peak Performance: A production of Sartre's No Exit courtesy of American Repertory Theatre.