Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Week in Theater

Thursday, Catherine and I took the L train out to Brooklyn to see The Bushwhack Series at The Bushwick Starr. We'd never been to the performance space but, now that we have, we'll definitely go again: it's a got a nice big stage, high ceilings, good lighting and sound systems, a large patio that allows folks to take the air on a warm summer night during intermission (with a nice view of Manhattan, even) and they did a great job programming this performance festival—it was a nice balance of theater, performance, film and trapeze (yes, trapeze: how could that possibly be a typo?). As is often the case, we'd gone to see work by our friends—this time, it was Ryan Holsopple's 31 Down Radio Theater and Jake Hooker, both of whom showed excerpts from larger projects they're developing. While 31 Down calls themselves a radio theater, their performance, Assember Dilator, in an arresting combination of live performers, recorded voices and a sound installation that literally had all of the seats shaking (and yet, somehow, it was not at all deafening—I'll have to follow up with Ryan to see how they accomplished that feat... if it's not a secret, of course). Aesthetically, it reminded me very much of the Shunt performance, Tropicana, that Catherine and I saw in the London Bridge vaults in '04: a little creepy, a little disturbing but absolutely enthralling. Jake's piece, a reworking of a Swedish tragicomedy from 1910 called Deluge, made use of technology in some interesting ways: they had slides and video on an LCD monitor with which the actors interacted—once as a bartender, several times as a telephone; live feed video that was projected onto a scrim hanging directly in front of the actors performing in the video—it made for an odd sort of disconnect since we were looking through the projected video and watching the actors as they played to the camera; and a soundtrack in which most of the dialogue was pre-recorded, but occasionally the actors would speak a few words or a line along with the recording. It was hard to tell from the excerpt what Jake's intention is for this piece but it's clearly still in an early developmental stage: all of the elements he's using to create the performance are strong and I'll be interested to see where he's going to take the work.

On Friday, we saw Chiori Miyagawa's I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour, a co-production of her company, Crossing Jamaica Avenue, and Voice and Vision at the Ohio Theater. The play is part of a larger event, The Hiroshma Project, that includes a reading series of plays by Japanese writers, a documentary film and symposia after the performances. The website calls the piece a poetic response to the 1959 French film, Hiroshima Mon Amour; I haven't yet seen the film (it's actually now number 3 in my Netflix queue) but it's not at all necessary in order to appreciate the play. The scenes shift back and forth between three stories: a Japanese man whose fiance died in the atomic blast while he was a prisoner of war; that same man in 1959, when he has a brief affair with the lead actress in the French film; and a contemporary trio of hipsters discussing the film. I liked the script a lot: the dialogue is intelligently poetic and yet still accessible, the stories are compelling and the characters are all clearly defined (the same three actors—Sue Jean Kim, Juliana Francis-Kelly and Joel de la Fuenta—do a great job playing all of the roles). Miyagawa has created a tender, expressionistic piece about memory, entitlement and cultural differences that avoids the pitfall of didacticism (except in the hipsters' dialogue, but that's actually the point in those scenes). Director Jean Wagner creates some incredibly vivid and beautiful stage pictures with the actors but the rhythm of the dialogue becomes a little too regular early in this production; I found this to be at odds with Miyagawa's script and, as a result, a lot of the humor in the piece was diminished. Still, the writing and acting are very good, the design elements very well executed (I especially liked the four rotating projection screens and how they were used to reshape the stage throughout the performance) and it's a swift 75 minutes; if, like me, you prefer a more challenging theater experience, I'd definitely recommend it.

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