nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
March 2, 2006
A projection of a naked man covered in what appears to be blood screams for help. On another projection, superimposed over part of the first, we see the eyes of a woman—a woman who seems to know more than she appears to let on at first. Soon the images separate, and through a new camera angle we find out that the woman is in the same predicament as the man, and she seems to have been waiting for him. Thus begins an intriguing yet almost tortuous back and forth dialogue as the man struggles to find out who and where he is, and how and why he ended up there. While the answers to the second pair of questions are more obscure, we soon get answers to the first pair. The man is named Harold and he is inside of a cow.
He is also in the downstairs theatre at HERE, where Live Project’s InsideOut is being presented. InsideOut is the brainchild of playwright Jason Pizzarello and director Aaron Rhyne—the company’s co-founders—and it is the type of multimedia theatrical experience that deliberately blurs the distinction between live theatrical and live video performance. Virtually all of the action in InsideOut takes place via two separate video projections of two otherwise unseen performers. Since we can’t see the performances directly, we must rely on the video filter set up by Rhyne and video artist Linsey Bostwick as they manipulate our perception of Pizzarello’s script using a clever but simple array of video directing and editing techniques involving shifting camera angles, changing frames, and recorded footage spliced into the live video feeds. The result is an exciting combination of the intimacy of a video confessional with the theatricality of a live shared experience.
It also uses these techniques, as well as its overall design, to toy with the audience’s perspective. The title of the piece gives a good indication of how. We see what’s going on inside of each domicile—which are the two halves of a large three-dimensional cow set side by side—by separate projections on the outside of each of them, giving the audience an inside-out view of the action. And by consciously revealing the theatrical machinery running the show—with projectors, laptops, and tech crew out in the open in plain sight—we get to see the production as a whole wear its insides out as well. While this may not be uncharted theatrical territory in multimedia experimental pieces, InsideOut pulls it off in a particularly appropriate and evocative way, giving the audience the feeling it is inside the control booth eavesdropping on the conversations, thoughts, and memories of its characters. The result is a paranoid and claustrophobic mood that manages to be hypnotically appealing at the same time. In this regard, InsideOut is indebted to its design elements, particularly sound and music designer Phil Christensen’s eerily seductive techno score. Jason Pizzarello’s sparse dialogue fits the feel of the show nicely, in and of itself a design element that adds to the mix.
But if I have any reservations with the piece, it is with Pizzarello’s script, which while appropriate stylistically, doesn’t really go anywhere. With the two characters trapped in a sort of fetal netherworld, one can apprehend that the climax of the piece will involve some sort of attempt to emerge, but one gets the sense that Pizzarello isn’t quite sure how to fill up the time between the start and finish. The dialogue meanders along and slowly reveals a bizarre and mysterious narrative, and while this narrative is never predictable, each revelatory detail feels like a new drag on the show that, rather than illuminating any broader themes, removes the piece further and further from the immediacy of its presentation.
This puts a tough task on the shoulders of the actors, who are paired up in man and woman teams on alternate nights, and who have to handle performances that are by design basically one note, but have all sorts of disjointed emotional background information that must be negotiated. Thankfully, the pair I saw—Maria Teresa Creasey and Steven Strafford—were more than up to the task, both delivering focused, compelling, and fearless performances.
In some ways, InsideOut feels like a display model of great theatrical invention that hasn’t quite found its true calling. Though this demonstration is an exhilarating ride, I think even better work is yet to emerge from this interesting and talented company. According to their website, InsideOut is the first installment of a three-part series exploring “modern absurdism and theatrical spectacle.” I’ll be looking for the second installment.