Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Begins in Art (3 of 3 posts)

I was intrigued when I first read the description of the Collectif « Ildi ! Eldi » offering in Under the Radar, Vice Versa:
John Bull is a decent guy, a rugbyman, and has suddenly discovered a strange looking gash growing behind his knee. Seeking help from his doctor Alan Margoulis and his charming secretary, Bull enters an absurd and sensual journey with his strange new appendage. Freely adapted from the novel of Will Self, the enfant terrible of British literature, Vice Versa is a surreal and comedic look at the confusions of the sexes, its ambiguities and pitfalls.
And, for the most part, it's an accurate description of the production that the three company members—Sophie Cattani, Antoine Oppenheim, François Sabourin—presented on the stage at Dixon Place. Surreal: definitely. An absurd journey: without question. Freely adapted: I can only imagine, not having read the novel (which is actually two stories combined into one book, Cock and Bull), but the repetition of a key scene several times, each time allowing the characters to reveal more and more of their inner monologues seems to be more a theatrical device than a novelistic one. A comedic look at the confusions of the sexes: well, mostly... it's definitely funny, it's kind of confusing and sex is definitely a big part of the confusion.

It might be their dialects: the artists' English is perfect but still accented so there were parts of the piece where I had trouble understanding some of what was being said. My friend, Anne Jensen, who speaks fluent French, suggested that the nature of their mother tongue may be impacting their performances: she feels that French speakers don't emphasize words the same way we do in English, and that led to a more monotone performance. She may very well be right but I also think that this performance style is one often employed in avant garde work and sometimes it's very effective... and sometimes less so. The rhythm of the piece may also be a factor, as each section of the piece has a tendency to achieve a regularity of volume and cadence that's rather lulling—I found my attention occasionally wandering during the repeated scene.

These might seem like significant problems for the production but they really aren't: they're more minor quibbles. I enjoyed Vice Versa: Collectif « Ildi ! Eldi » are all engaging performers, they made good use of their simple production design (two chairs, a table and light bulb on a bungee cord), and their adaptation of the novel has intrigued me to check out the original source material. And, as it turns out, I'll have another opportunity to sample their work next month: they're collaborating with Witness Relocation and playwright Charles L. Mee on a new work at La MaMa.

It's also possible that a trip to Lyons is in order soon....

I must say that I was completely surprised by Your Brother. Remember?, writer/performer Zachary Oberzan's mash-up of live performance, pop music, excerpts from the films Kickboxer and Faces of Death, and the recreations of those films that he, his brother, Gator, and their kid sister, Jenny, made in 1989 and then revisited in 2009. His Rambo Solo with Nature Theatre of Oklahoma was an extraordinary exercise in which Oberzan used ear prompters to allow him to match up his live performance with prerecorded video of himself telling the story of the novel, First Blood, that was being projected on the wall above him, but I found myself more intrigued by how it was created than the content of the piece. Here, however, his deep passion for his subject comes across in all aspects of the performance. It's a loving tribute to the joys and exuberance of youth and its fragile innocence. To watch these young boys playing in front of the camera, and then to contrast it with the men on the cusp of middle age struggling to revisit that experience, is both painful and inspirational: I wonder how many of us would throw ourselves so fearlessly into a project as potentially embarrassing as this one? And yet Gator, an ex-convict who is not a performer, did it with abandon and enthusiasm. In this and in video interviews from 2009, Gator's obvious love for his brother and pride Zachary's artistic accomplishments are powerful. And yet the production never stoops to sentimentality: Oberzan allows the emotions to exist almost without commentary. It's rare for experimental work to explore feelings and pathos in this manner; Your Brother. Remember? artfully and entertainingly offers a very personal and genuine insight into the human experience.

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