nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 19, 2009
Pitch, a new theatre piece at La MaMa by Kolekt::f, seems to me to be about the shift in society's attitude toward communication—from something communal and worthy of attention to something ultra-personal and easy to tune out. The piece itself illustrates this dichotomy, resulting in most of the most thrilling moments packed near its beginning while the finale is tougher to get through. But the show overall is elegant and smart and performed with real commitment by its ensemble of seven; it's an intriguing and generally engaging performance work that provides plenty of food for thought.
Kolekt::f is: poet Gracie Leavitt, who wrote the text, which is a dozen monologues, some in a recognizable meter, others in free verse that more than once put me in mind of the cadences of Samuel Beckett; Nick Murphy, the choreographer, who provides some remarkable movement segments that fuel the show with vivid energy and stage pictures; Wolfgang Zah, a young composer from Germany whose music for Pitch is its most emotionally affecting element, perhaps in part because Zah himself is on stage as part of the ensemble, playing his compositions on piano; and Benjamin Mosse, the director, whose individual contributions are (appropriately) not so easily sussed out, but who has overseen the creation of a cohesive and pertinent piece of theatre art.
In addition to Zah, the performers on stage are: Jennifer Lim, Erin Layton, Tuomas Hiltunen, Joe Tuttle, Caleb Bark, and Elka Rodriguez. Hiltunen plays "C"; he has invited his friends A, B, D, E, F, and W to dinner. The program informs us that it is a time when stories are forbidden. An ingenious silent prologue sets up the premise: the six guests knock at C's door and then parade into his living space with military precision; they place themselves at the table (a wondrously mysterious dining table, hanging from the ceiling, is provided by set designer Kanae Heike); they eat and drink in silence and then depart. This happens several times, making us understand that this is a way of life for these sort of automaton-like people.
And then one day, after the meal, C lets out what can only be described as a yawp—long, loud, and alarming. The guests are disturbed, but something has happened to their world after this unexpected and unlooked-for occurrence, and now more surprising things happen. One of the guests announces that he is reminded of something, and then he tells a story. Everyone is jolted by this event, but the experience causes everyone to change. They join in, helping to tell the story by acting out parts of it. And they begin to find, and to tell, stories of their own. W, the composer, communicates his from the piano. Most of the stories are told in words, but some are danced—segments danced by Tuttle, Bark, and Hiltunen are, for me, the high points of the show.
At the beginning, the story-telling seems to be for the sheer joy of expression and of sharing, and the collaborative spirit makes the piece feel exultant. Then the stories start tumbling from the assemblage, overlapping; and as the novelty wears off, the tellers become more engrossed in their own private world of discourse and less concerned with the tellings of others. Rather like, I thought, the way that people live-blog or text or tweet while they're watching a movie or in lieu of conversation while they're surrounded by live human beings.
This, at least, is what I got out of Pitch; I suspect that the richness and depth of the work will bear many other interpretations, perhaps not so narratively-bound as my own. I was excited by the show because of its moments of beauty and profundity; I was also impressed by its craft, which is owed to its creators and to its designers (in addition to Heike, they are lighting designer Gina Scherr and costume designer Michael Huang). After it was over, my companion and I talked about it for a long time and discovered that we'd each gotten much from the experience, and that's the highest praise, I think, that can accrue to any work of theatre.