Saturday, July 31, 2010

Red Over Red

Considering that the piece explores airline disasters and phobias, I was surprised that I didn't find 31 Down's Red Over Red more disturbing. That's just an observation, mind you, not a criticism: it's an excellent production, aurally and visually engaging with finely-crafted understated performances by all four of the actors.

Oh, don't get me wrong: it's an unsettling piece. The already highly-fragmented story is fractured even further, especially in the first third of the performance as director Shannon Sindelar and lighting designer Jon Luton reveal characters and action by punctuating periods of blackness with intensely short bursts of sculpted light. The experience is made all the more disconcerting by the fact that Ryan Holsopple's layered soundscape—which has at its base the distorted roar of jet engines, naturally—is a constant throughout: the stage may be totally dark for extended intervals but it is almost never silent. The script by Sindelar and Holsopple is sparse—most of the dialogue comes in a series of short, two-hand scenes, 10-12 lines in all, in which the characters speak in single sentences—and yet it illuminates the individuals as precisely as the lighting effects: we don't learn much about the people but what we do identifies them and their place in the story quite specifically. Live feed video projected onto a long strip of a screen suspended over the stage—duet scenes of a pilot and flight attendant (DJ Mendel and Shauna Kelly) in an airliner bathroom, transcripts of dialogue between the pilot's wife and an air traffic controller (Caitlin McDonough-Thayer and Holsopple), and a cleverly-engineered panning shot of a miniature jet in flight—enhance the disconnection between the reality on stage and the stage reality: we're constantly aware of all of the theatrical devices and how they are being used.

All of these elements combine to form a unique whole: theatrically piecemeal and yet the overall experience is completely immersive; from beginning to end, there's never an empty moment. The performances are all strong and are well-supported by the direction and design. Red Over Red is a skillfully-crafted work that ably illustrates the kind of challenging and engaging, yet still accessible, sort of theater that 31 Down is creating: get down to the Incubator at St. Marks' and check it out.

photo by Sue Kessler

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