nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
August 6, 2007
Sick, as presented in Collective Unconscious' Undergroundzero Festival, is a non-linear physical theatre piece that explores, on the one hand, the nature of relationships on the brink of self-destructing, and on the other, the horrors of war. It is at times funny, at times moving, and, at times, comically heavy handed. But, given the laboratory setting of the Undergroundzero festival, it is definitely worth taking a look.
Sick is divided into four parts. The first shows two couples on the brink of self-destruction, the second shows shell-shocked soldiers under fire on a battlefield, the third shows the same soldiers in stark contrast with their white-washed, pencil-pushing military administration counterparts, and the fourth goes back and focuses on one of the couples from the beginning.
The ensemble is strong—they are all polished performers, with tremendous physical control—but the standouts are, without a doubt, the three actors who played the shell-shocked soldiers. [Editor's Note: Individual performers were not identified in the program.] Whereas the other performers seem to flaunt their physical training in a way that is uncharacteristic of whom they are portraying, the three soldiers do an excellent job of making their physicality an organic part of their character.
In spite of strong performances from the ensemble, however, the unquestionable star of the show is composer Anthony Gatto's world-creating sound design and composition. When I say "world-creating," I mean just that—the music and sound do a tremendous amount to evoke the nature of each scene, to highlight the physical action onstage and heighten it. The music is haunting—at times mechanical, at times tender, but always engaging.
Overall, however, the experience of seeing Sick is summed up best by a single moment in the piece, towards the very end.
In it, two young lovers are seated on chairs, the woman behind the man. The man lifts up the woman's legs, and starts to "drive" her, as though she is a car. The woman laughs as the man becomes sillier and more vehement in his "driving." He "drives" until finally he "crashes" the "car," and they both lie on top of each other. Up to this point, the moment has been tender and fun, with two obviously experienced physical performers taking advantage of their training to bring the audience something remarkably simple yet tender and beautiful. The moment is broken, however, by the text that follows. The man asks the woman "Are you alive?" The woman laughs, "Yes, are you?" The man laughs, "Yes." The woman then becomes suddenly serious—a seriousness that goes beyond the moment of these two characters and almost screams "performance art"—and says "How do you know you are alive?"
This what the experience of seeing Sick is like: engaging physical moments of remarkable control, at times a sublime simplicity, at times dazzling moments of controlled chaos. All of which, however, are generally broken by heavy handed moralizing, and actors who handle these moments—moments grounded in text more so than physicality—without the precision needed to keep them from becoming comically overdone.
I left Sick feeling vaguely unsatisfied. There were several moments of brilliance and an awe-inspiring sound design, but these were just parts of the whole. I left Sick wanting something more. But, given the laboratory nature of this festival, this may be exactly as it was meant to be—to leave the audience curious as to how this piece will develop and where it will go next.