How Soon is Now?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 25, 2009
When you arrive in the lobby at Irondale Ensemble Project's new theatre in Brooklyn for How Soon Is Now?, you are greeted by a friendly usher who tells you that when the show begins you will not be entering through the theatre door but rather will be led up a flight of stairs to a more-or-less undisclosed location. When you arrive at that location, a cast member leads you in to a darkened, narrow space where a very short animated film is projected on a wall, serving as introduction to the singular and surprising experience of this show.
The emphasis, as you have no doubt already realized, is on surprising. How Soon Is Now? is an hour of surprises, some of which require you to move around the theater in ways that more conventional chair-bound plays never do, and some of which even involve you (possibly) in moving around some scenery or helping to subdue one of the characters in the story. (Don't worry, you're never in any physical danger.) Most of the surprises emanate from a variety of performances and performers, live and on video, who assault, disorient, jolt, amuse, challenge, and entertain as they tell a very unusual version of the familiar tale of Peter and the Wolf. I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to give you a sense for the thing, so here's a quick, random sampling of some of what happens here: a pair of trumpeters, quite literally larger than life, blast music at you from a huge screen on one wall of the playing space; a distressed woman warns you, in German, about some impending trouble; flower petals open and close before your eyes; and the Wolf and the Cat dance a thrilling, physical pas-de-deux that's also their climactic battle.
The play is mostly a courtroom drama, in which the Wolf is tried for his crimes in front of a judge who is possibly the Cat; Peter is the executioner. A gallery of spectators is supplied via multimedia (they happen to be taken from footage from the movie M). A key idea explored is that one man's morality is another man (wolf)'s survival; the dances between the Wolf and the Cat and the Wolf and Peter underscore that answering violence with more violence may not be for the best. The narrative is expressed in words and in movement, not always linear and usually abstract and emotive.
As in all of bluemouth inc.'s work, the theatrical language and the notion of immersing an audience inside a theatre piece are just as important as the specific topics being examined. I left How Soon Is Now? moved by the primal and visceral emotions aroused by the movements of the Wolf, Peter, and the others—and struck by how necessary the audience is to the overall experience of the work: how our tentativeness, enthusiasms, and anxieties, as we deal with so many unexpected elements, reflect back at us in what we see and hear.
This is a collaboration involving dozens of remarkable artists. Only six of them perform in the room with us: actors Cass Buggé, Stacie Morgain Lewis, Stephen O'Connell, Daniel Pettrow, and Lucy Simic, and "Drummer Boy" Omar Zubair. O'Connell and Pettrow are particularly memorable in their dance together and O'Connell's Wolf is fearless and unpredictable and utterly watchable throughout. Simic (Peter), Buggé (Bird), and Lewis (Duck) are excellent as well, and Zubair's percussive accompaniment is invaluable. Others making significant behind-the-scenes contributions include Richard Windeyer (music and, with Zubair, sound design), lighting designer Aron Deyo, animator Heather Schibli, and video/film designers Cameron Davis, Sabrina Reeves, O'Connell, and Windeyer.
It's an intense, rich, rewarding hour of theatre unlike pretty much anything else I know of that's on stage right now. bluemouth inc. continues to astonish with their versatility, creativity, and energy. If you've never seen any of this Canadian-American company's work, now is not too soon at all.