nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
January 13, 2012
Newyorkland rages in its New York premiere at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, exposing the grim, isolated world of the NYPD in a stark multimedia installation. The claustrophobic presentation pounds the senses utilizing video, live action and visual art. It superbly melds fictional text and a stylized television crime drama motif with real unfiltered first-person accounts to explore the perilous existence of New York City police officers.
It’s one of the most honest works of theatre you will ever see.
This highly provocative work by Temporary Distortion was co-created by Kenneth Collins and William Cusick. The combination of documentary-style video sequences and live action performances makes the viewing experience feel all the more interactive. Director/designer Collins gives us a chance to see what it's like to walk an everyday beat and sit in a lonely office on the late shift. We hear accounts from officers about the dangers and unpredictability of a job patrolling the streets giving a chilling inside look to their attitudes and state of mind.
Video designer/director Cusick provides a roving view of the city’s neighborhoods, then stops to showcase a response to a distress call. The documentary-style reenactments are quite disturbing; they convey a visceral appreciation of what it’s like to be present on the crime scene in progress. No one knows how it will end.
This is a dark, often bleak, look into the mind of New York City police officer. The characters are candid about their idealistic beginnings: enrolling in the academy to help others. Others enroll simply out of a family tradition in the force. But no amount of schooling can prepare them for actual life amid the public and the subsequent suspicious mistreatment by the average citizen (not to mention the common criminal). Their outlook turns distrustful and jaded in turn.
This is an existence that may have started with a genuine desire to help people but has quickly evaporated into a disdain for the citizens who regard their protectors with contempt. One of the most compelling sequences in the production takes place when the officers bark exclamations of disgust in dealing with the criminals they encounter daily.
In its graphic realism, the production is reminiscent of the play Charlie Victor Romeo, a collection of dramatizations culled from actual black box cockpit recordings of airplane crashes.
The text generally trails the lives of four police officers as they interact with an unappreciative community and interrelate with each other in somber tones. Each character expresses some degree of disillusionment or soul-searching angst. The officers are convincingly portrayed by Nick Bixby, Daniel Brown, Al Di Martino and Brian Greer.
The installation is presented in a box-like structure emphasizing the claustrophobic world in which the officers live. The characters are presented in square frames physically separated from each other. The police radio whirrs reports on neighborhood activity; the typewriter echoes into the surrounding darkness as an officer pounds the keys. Suddenly fluorescent lights cut through to another sequence. The effects magnify all the elements of the production combining into an overpowering whole.
These characters have grown to despise their work, the citizens they’re trained to protect and ultimately themselves. It’s an existence of mutual distrust and hostility.