Liz One - Her Secret Diaries in the Land of 1000 Dances
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
October 17, 2009
After seeing Liz One (Her Secret Diaries in the Land of 1000 Dances) by John Jesurun, my reaction to the press blurb supplied by the company above this review is:
Suffice it to say that my experience of the play vastly differed from its billing.
I did not find Liz One very engaging or clear, but what follows is my general impression from what little I could glean. In the center of the stage there is a seat for Queen Elizabeth I where she spends most of the play in her stunning dress (designed by Molly Deale). Flanking her on both sides are projections about nine feet high. These projections are often twin, spherical laser-like kaleidoscope images that spin in dizzying unison or they are nine-foot tall close-ups of animated actors' faces. There is a camera on either side of the stage. Sometimes the actors abandon the stage to address cameras, so that we see their wall-sized faces speaking side by side. The play seems to exist in some no-man's-land of indeterminate time and space.
Though you couldn't guess it from the advertising, Liz One is actually a two-person play. Theater veteran Black-Eyed Susan plays "Liz" but shares the stage and lines with Benjamin Forster (a recent NYU grad) the whole time in duet. The text is more often about abstract ideas, largely non-dramatic, and dry. It is generally spoken by both actors as "text that was difficult to memorize" and there is little emotional connection to what they are saying, or who these characters are to each other. Forster's character is called "Twin Glimmer" and he is supposed to represent some child of Elizabeth's that she hid away from the world. Yet the play also seems to treat her conversation and relationship with the Twin Glimmer as non-literal, maybe in her head, maybe all a rumor. The play assumes that it is widely accepted knowledge that Elizabeth was not in fact a "virgin queen" but had multiple illegitimate children and scores of affairs. Often Liz speaks from the center of the stage looking to one side of the stage or another, or at the floor, rarely directly at the Twin Glimmer or the audience. Often she is speaking on stage while the Twin Glimmer is speaking to her through the camera, so that his huge face dwarves her tiny body beside it. The oddity of the text, plus the disconnected way it is delivered, plus the giant moving images distracting your attention make it really difficult to process the meaning of the lines or follow the logic of ideas.
And that's all you get: text and video. There is no plot, physicality, or dramatic action to cling to or help you to care about it. I found the whole thing very stagnant and difficult to engage with. Judging from the shifting in the seats around me, I was not alone in my experience. I missed anything resembling an "intensely reflected history," learned nothing about her alleged love affairs, and couldn't tell you what the "Land of 1000 Dances" refers to. The whole idea of her even writing an account of her life was really only apparent in the last few minutes of the play. All in all I found Liz One in no way resembling the insightful, profoundly layered experience that writer/director/designer John Jesurun apparently intended to present.