Saturday, July 5, 2008

New York: An Uneasy Celebration

Catherine had to work the show at Dixon Place last night, Annie Lanzilotto's The Flat Earth. I'd never seen Annie's work, though I've met her on a couple of occasions and enjoyed talking with her. This is another instance of a show I wish I'd seen earlier in its run so that I could encourage as many people to see it as possible; unfortunately, it closed tonight.

It's a solo piece for the most part, although Annie is occasionally assisted by Audrey Kindred and Caitlin, the DP intern. Their contributions are particularly important when Annie bench presses two traffic lights—no, I'm not kidding: two fully-functioning traffic lights... and that's not even the best part of the show. Like many solo works, it's very autobiographical, but there's much here that anyone who has struggled to live in New York for any length of time will recognize. Annie captures the dichotomy of life in the City—the exhilarating energy of possibilities and the crushing pain of our daily obstacles—in a beautifully poetic manner.

One of my favorite moments in the evening was when Annie held up two large pieces of mica schist—the bedrock material of Manhattan that allows us to build our towering skyscrapers. The piece had begun with an incantation to the glitter of New York; now, standing center stage in a spotlight, she began to rub these two rocks together over her head. As she did, a fine, black dust began to rain all over her body, with the flecks of mica embedded in the stone sparkling brightly in the hot white light. As she told us about the geological properties of the schist, where it dove down deep into the Earth's crust and where it was closest to the surface, she rubbed these large, rough stones all over her body, pressed their dust into her skin and into her hair—bathed herself in this most basic component of the City. It was one of the most personal rituals I've seen onstage in some time, and yet I connected with it completely.

The piece ended with Annie taking us all outside to a mailbox on Prince Street to share our own personal stories (the mailbox tied back to a story from Annie's childhood). While we were there, a man came by who lives in one of the few remaining SROs on the Bowery and contemptuously answered a question Annie had asked. Rather than ignore him and go on with her performance, Annie chose to engage the man in conversation and bring him into the performance. Initially, he was resistant to be drawn in, but she was incredibly persistent and personal with him—she listened to him and made it clear that she was interested in his opinions. Within a fairly short time, he asked to take his turn sharing his own New York story with all of us. It was an amazing end to an inspiring evening.

I hope that Annie continues to work on this piece: it has the potential to be a great work for her. She and her director have some work still to do—last night's performance was about 15-20 minutes too long and, as much as I like the raw visual quality of wires all over the stage, it also felt a little dangerous occasionally... which is not be entirely bad for this piece, to be fair. A safe evening at the theater it's not, and personally, I'd like to have more evenings like it.

No comments: