Letters from the Earth
nytheatre.com review by Gregg Bellon
December 3, 2005
Collapsible Giraffe attempts to create a cacophony of concept, audio/ visual stimuli, and self-awareness with Letters from the Earth, an exploration, in the company’s words, of:
... our need to fight isolation and loneliness by spinning vast webs of gossip, half-baked conspiracies, and religious dogma. The company incorporates both archaic and ultra-modern modes of transmission in the performance including: WWII-era radio, analog reel-to-reel tape, 1980s teletype, and live video streaming via Internet.
I default to the creators’ words because while I observed a lot of “communicating” between and from the zealously committed six-member cast, the message was lost on me without the aid of this editorializing. And even then, while I found definite examples of the “webs” and “gossip” and “religious dogma,” I had to rack my brain to put it all into a coherent lasting impression.
The fact that there is no literature to accompany the performance speaks to the general approach of Collapsible Giraffe, a post-punk deconstruction of the modes and roles of theatre. If that sounds too pedantic, I apologize and take full responsibility for the categorization. I’m sure Collapsible Giraffe contents itself that this post-performance discussion is actually a continuation of their performance, of their concept.
This work, Letters from the Earth, epitomizes the post-modern concept of sampling, of integrating varying styles and approaches, striving for fluidity like a DJ matching beats from '70s funk to '90s hip hop to '80s new wave. CG samples the concepts of performance art, of deconstruction and experimentalism, of sensory overload and immersion, by transforming the Collapsable Hole, their garage-like laboratory that is less theatre and more biome, into an incubator where performers and technicians are one, where the audience is taunted, dared even, to be a part of the narrative. Suffice to say that no one took them up on the opportunity to speak up the night I participated. Layers of movement, with performers in constant motion or almost at rest; and visuals, from the teletype screen to a reflective mirror background that forces the perspective of self-awareness and continuity between artist and audience, blend all the performers into a kind of machine, an entity that is actually the bowels of a greater entity, serving to sustain it. Names and relationships pop up every now and then—random references to real world “facts” but subservient to the overall anonymity of the individuals.
Yes, there are “characters” and I presume “character names,” some more obvious than others; i.e., the zealous ecclesiastical mouthpiece Satan, “Jim,” and “Iver,” but I have no written reference for this. The performers therefore appear to be mere variations on themselves, a weakness spread throughout the piece. Self-referential is the best term that pops to mind, but that oversimplifies the issue. Collapsible Giraffe mentions on the official show website that transmissions of video footage from rehearsal through performances are available for streaming, and I imagine that my observations on the live performance have to take into account that maybe I only experienced a percentage of the performance. Follow-up seems necessary in some form to fully absorb Letters from the Earth. The individual experience is almost inarticulate, only one step in a layered approach to live theatrical performance. The more I stew with it, that I ponder the whats and whys, the more I see, the more the cacophony begins to take on an orchestration all its own.
There’s a rhythm there that finds its way to you eventually even if you can’t really make out the melody or the beats. Sometimes the DJ skips a beat, the one roughly stumbling into the other. Or maybe that dissonance is part of the point.