Decade at a Glance
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
February 12, 2010
Decade at a Glance focuses mainly on the impact that the Great Depression had on families in the part of the country that came to be known as the Dust Bowl. Based on the press materials, this concentration seems intended to underscore the link between the housing collapse of our decade and that of the '30s. While there is certainly an echo, that description does not get to the main strength of this piece, which is its powerful and communicative movement work. Decade at a Glance is both a collage of images and an album of the moments that defined this experience.
It starts with the financial crash of 1929, physically embodying it in a way that sets up quickly how this piece will use the body as much as the voice to communicate. Suddenly, the play then moves away from an urban environment it has started to establish and hones in on the population beaten down so severely by both economy and weather. Creating a world of desolation through the dust storms and the power of the human body to express—to almost cry out, while being absolutely still and waiting for the next calamity to strike—is when Decade at a Glance is at its most powerful. They've taken the photographs of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans as a starting point and breathed into them a living urgency. This production is not afraid of silence, and anyone who is will be powerfully challenged within the lengths of quiet this show braves.
There is also some solid vocal work through singing as well as text and fine music being performed live throughout the piece. When not having one character speak directly to the audience, director Joan Evans has chosen to keep her actors moving and interacting in silence. For much of the time the cast's interaction while moving is either symbolic, as when they create the car creaking out west, or choreographed so that the line of interaction is simple and linear. While that choice is well done, the one duet in the show is performed with such humor and interplay that it feels like a good drink of water—don't necessarily need more, but appreciated its humanity and energy as a break from the intensity.
In its rather spartan space, the piece fully exploits the talents of its ensemble and the skill of Evans's choreography to richly create a series of arresting moments. The costumes by Katja Andreive support the actors well in their movement as they also help visualize a physical world.
If as a whole Decade at a Glance is somewhat unclear in how it completes itself—suddenly the Dust Bowl is left behind and we're back in the city on bread lines—nonetheless the show creates a strong journey. It is a rather wonderful tribute that Evans has created with these living theater images which fully embody Dorothea Lange's quote: "One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind." Decade at a Glance makes those moments happen still in the mind even when the show has ended.