nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
June 4, 2008
Frequency Hopping is a stunning elaborate multidisciplinary play running at 3LD Art & Technology Center. This gorgeous production is one of the most technologically sophisticated theatre experiences one could imagine, if one could imagine it. It's part play, part documentary, part '40s musical, part avant-garde theatre, part experimental art production, part World War II propaganda piece. There's even a bit of monologue slam in the mix. The production effortlessly shifts through all these disciplines to tell the story.
The play boldly re-imagines the collaboration of Hedy Lamarr, commonly considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear on film and most famous for causing a sensation for appearing nude in the Czech film Ekstase, and George Antheil, the accomplished "Bad Boy of Music" and composer of "Ballet Mécanique." In 1940, they developed a secret telecommunications system known as "frequency hopping" based on player piano technology and intended to control torpedo guidance for the U.S. military. The method was eventually granted a U.S. patent and is now widely used in wireless technology.
The play is essentially a fantasy depiction of Lamarr's and Antheil's relationship and is told with humor and grace. The script conveys a genuine reverence towards its true life characters, and the production has an appealing innocence to it. Our heroes are both entertainment industry heavyweights who are motivated by patriotism to help Uncle Sam on the looming war effort.
The multimedia approach gives us an illustrated insight into the collaborative process and the merging of art and science. Magnificently constructed, this is the show that might have come from the brilliant minds of the two principals. One moment our heroes are interacting in a conventionally staged scene, the next they're performing a vaudeville musical number. Moments later they're happily interacting with animated projections of fighter planes and bathtubs. The entire experience is a feast for the eyes and ears.
Elyse Singer wrote and directed this ambitious production (with original score by Joshua Fried) which boasts a 25-piece robotic orchestra highlighted by eight synchronized player pianos. The ingenious multimedia design and set which dominates the production was created by Elaine J. McCarthy. McCarthy's magnificent, eye-popping 3D projections quite possibly steal the show.
In an elaborate, tech-heavy production such as this, there's the possibility that all the bells and whistles could literally overpower the play, but the snappy, spirited performances of the actors ensure a balanced effort. Erica Newhouse shines as Hedy Lamarr. She confidently carries the regal radiance and eccentricity of a Hollywood legend. Joseph Urla adeptly croons, dances, and glides as George Antheil. He has charisma to spare and is the perfect counter to Newhouse's leading lady.
The stellar creative team behind the production includes elegant costumes by Angela M. Kahler and flawless lighting by Tyler Micoleau. Marcelo Anez's intricate sound design evokes strong emotional responses via a broad range of music styles and effects.