The Stubborn Illusion of Time
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
June 21, 2008
The Stubborn Illusion of Time, a free-floating movement play at the innovative Brick Theater in Williamsburg, brings together an ensemble of four actors, who weave together macabre, eerie scenes in a tapestry of evocative moods. Illusion is not as much a play as it is a pantomime with some language in it. Through movement, projection, lots of plastic drop cloths, and lighting, this group evokes a disturbing nightmare.
Created and presented by the group Bone Orchard, and artfully directed by Anna Jones, Illusion "tells the story of a living man who stumbles into an old casket factory and emerges, his head bursting with what he has seen: ghosts frozen in a photograph," according to the program. This is not obvious. But it doesn't matter. The strength of Illusion rests more on the surprising twists at various intervals and the smooth transitions that propel the piece forward.
No storyline is entirely clear, but a dark, psychological vibe emerges. At the start, images of two men—Rudolf and Gregor—are projected on a scrim. They are sitting side by side, eating chips and enjoying beers. At the same time, the actual Gregor sits inebriated in front of the screen, offering an audience member a beer as he continues to drink. It is an interesting use of time, seeing both an aggressive present and a collegial past simultaneously. In a following tableau, Rudolf, an East German photographer, offers to read to Frances. Frances, a young seemingly disturbed woman, brings him a book on shock stimuli. Every time he mentions those words she breaks into seizures. Meanwhile, Gregor enters the room with Rudolf and Frances, and he proceeds to retch uncontrollably. Another woman eventually joins them, moving slowly, gracefully. Like the storyline, the relationships are unclear, but altogether the characters bring to the stage a dark, chaotic, and foreboding aura. The program doesn't designate who plays what role, but the actors—Brian Farish, Laura Jensen, Eddy Schoeffmann, and Maggie Surrovell—work well as an ensemble to deliver a discomfiting piece of theatre.
David Dixon's set of plastic covered objects and his creative use of projection on scrim reinforce the mood. The repetition of various scenes on the scrim and on a TV give Illusion a sense of circuitous storytelling, acting and re-enacting life's parts—like a scary loop—binding what seems like disparate parts of the play together. The music by Sharath Patel lends additional eeriness to the tone. Burke Brown strews the same covered bulbs found inside a scaffolding tunnel on the stage for lighting, heightening the noir effect and the claustrophobic feel of the so-called casket factory. A camera acts as both a familiar and terrifying weapon—pointed outwards, it startles nearly every time the flash goes off. Lia Cinquegrano's costumes are in sync with the rest of the production.
The Stubborn Illusion of Time is not an easy piece to watch, although there are many strong points that validate this experimental theatre. As a piece created from previous improvisation, the group incorporates enough transitions to hold it together, but not enough to make it a coherent story. However, during its 50 minutes, it manages to create a very strong atmosphere.