nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
March 5, 2010
Big Eater is a sort of performative collage, mixing a video meditation on man's relationship with nature; a seriocomic panel discussion on the ways the world could end; a debate over the concepts of synthetic biology; celebrity interviews; dance in various styles ranging from a kind of cracked-open classical ballet to more recognizable modern-dance idioms; and—devolving at the end almost entirely into—a repeating sequence in which a drunk man consumes a cheeseburger on the floor while a child urges him to stop drinking or he'll get fired. (This last part apparently is a reenactment of a real-world video of David Hasselhoff and one of his children, though I think I was the only person in the audience who didn't get the reference until a mention of Hasselhoff in the program notes sent me researching.) All of this, generally, seems to be commenting on the relationship between desire and control—our control of our environment, or our inability to control our environment or our own urges, or the way that both environment and urges can and will undermine our best efforts to manage and negotiate them.
The jigsaw-puzzle construction of movement segments with spoken-word segments is intricate and showcases the varied talents of the performers. On the whole, I found the dance segments stronger and richer both conceptually and in execution than the spoken-word elements, though. I especially liked a central section featuring three pas-de-deuxs, using a ballet framework but deconstructing it in action—rather than three male-female pairs, it features one male-male, one male-female, and one female-female, and the dance likewise is close to, but not quite exactly in, the language of classical ballet.
But while some of the panel discussion segments are wryly humorous and well-performed, the emphasis of the theatrical sections gradually shifts thoroughly toward the alcoholic dialogue, fragmented, echoed, repeated, dissected, and reprised many times over the last half of the piece (while foreshadowed or alluded to in the opening moments, where two men have a wordless battle over a cheeseburger). Perhaps if I'd gotten the initial reference, and was more able to intuitively connect that sequence to a wider world of pop culture, celebrity obsessions, and the way celebrity culture plays into our wants and desires, I would have appreciated it more. But even so, I think the piece's zeroing focus on it toward the end, to the exclusion of some of the other themes, gives it a weight out of proportion to the meaningfulness of its content, and I think that amount of weight ultimately diminishes the scene's ability to connect emotionally with the audience.
Visually, the piece has an appealing mixture of the mundane—metal folding chairs, plastic conference tables, small mirrors mounted on walls—and the lush—gorgeous, full-wall video projections (designed by Bryna Lieberman), some like ghostly chalk drawings and some more richly and photographically textured. Like many of Big Eater's elements, I enjoyed the imagery without really being sure what it was about, or how it fit into the larger picture.
Looked at element by element, collage fragment by collage fragment, Big Eater is engaging, often funny, rich and complex. I'm not really sure what the whole added up to, but the sum of the parts in and of itself is worth watching.