The Assember Dilator
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
October 8, 2009
When it comes to performance art one can never really know what to expect, and no matter how many times I find myself in the audience watching something abstract and singularly bizarre I always leave the theatre knowing that what I witnessed has dug its way into my psyche where it will remain for years to come. 31 Down's The Assember Dilator is no exception. Dusted with sprinklings of subtle humor throughout, this frightening and beautifully awkward commentary on the overmedication of society and the ends justifying the means is absolutely like nothing I've ever seen.
Shannon Sindelar and Ryan Holsopple have created quite a trip. The duo co-wrote this piece, Sindelar directs, and Holsopple performs as one of two extremely disciplined and dedicated actors. Holsopple depicts Dr. Assember, the inventor and eventual test subject of an eye drop that is supposedly capable of giving its user the coveted gift of x-ray vision. His frumpy assistant nurse turned willing human lab rat/science fiction femme fatale is portrayed by Caitlin McDonough. Both are impressive in their performances, using repetitive movement and almost total vocal silence to tell their story. With virtually no speaking onstage, most of the vocal work is done through disembodied voices spliced throughout their experience giving us pieces of the thematic puzzle with phrases like, "You think you're doing good things but they really might be bad." Even with limited direct interaction they create a kind of creepy dance as they find themselves trapped in a cycle of perpetual greed, lust, and irresponsible decisions.
What is most impressive about this performance is the deliberate intention to make their audience as uncomfortable as possible. Seriously, from the very first moment the lights went down I found myself overcome with a sense of foreboding. My very seat became a part of this mood, vibrations from the dark and ominous sound design, again designed by Holsopple, moving up the legs. Paired with painfully bright, then frustratingly dim lighting design by Jon Luton and, you guessed it, Holsopple, the feeling that we are in the hallucinations with the subjects is born and there is no escape. We are a part of what could very well be a hefty dose of LSD. The sound effects are so powerful and sustained that at one point they were taken away and I don't think I've ever been so grateful for the silence. The scenic design by Andreea Mincic, which is altered with a spiritual kind of silence by the actors, and costumes by TaraFawn Marek, both exclusively in white, accent this trip perfectly. In fact each element compliments the whole of the performance beautifully.
I would be willing to bet that 31 Down could put on one hell of a Haunted House this Halloween. They might as well have strapped me to a roller coaster car for 70 minutes. It would have felt the same. Whether you love or hate performance art, it is undeniable that it takes talent and vision to pull it off when you see a show so deliberately and seamlessly put together. Not only did they pull off their intention of viscerally engaging the audience through discomfort, they made us grateful for it. It takes a very unique talent to pull something like this off and 31 Down should be proud.