nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 15, 2012
Surf Reality's new show 64, now playing at HERE as part of their HEREstay program, is described as a "vaudeville of the mind." That billing came back to me over and over again as I watched the show, which, at its best, is a multimedia collage of various kinds of art having a dialogue about the collapsed American Dream. A song may be followed by a short scene, and then by a spoken-word piece played against a pre-recorded (projected) animated sequence.
The source material for 64 is, first, a set of photographs that appeared in the New York Times. These were the inspiration for 64 paintings made by Jennilie Brewster; the paintings in turn inspired playwright Timothy Braun to create the text for the play—64 one-page plays that have been arranged and adapted by director Robert Prichard and his collaborators: media artist Ann Enzminger, animator Ashliegh Nakivell, sound designer Tom Tenney, and composer Sean T. Hanratty.
The result is a work that is sometimes funny, occasionally surprising, and frequently bleak as it meditates on stories of waste, loss, and inertia in an archetypal American Heartland. Live performances by Tenney, Hanratty, Jim Melloan, Noel Dinneen, Susan Young, Lori McNally, Morgan Everitt, and Jeff Dickinson (sometimes solo, sometimes in dialogues and short scenes; sometimes sung or danced, but mostly spoken) are set against the changing projected backdrop of Brewster's paintings (sometimes transformed or animated). What struck me most was the sameness of themes and colors throughout—as I said, this is a sad portrait of a sad country and its people. Only a couple of tales felt different; and only a few of the projected static images stood out among an array of stark, arid browns, tans, and yellows. The animations—maybe three or four in number—offered the most interesting and striking visual images.
I was hoping for more interplay between the various artistic elements in the show; mostly the live performances and the digital ones stayed separate. And I was disappointed that the inventive staging that starts off the show—in which characters from different stories seemed to be watching each other, overlapping one another, or otherwise interacting organically—gave way mostly to a more linear style of theatre.
I feel lilke 64 points to something innovative in multi-disciplinary theatre, and I hope that its creators pursue its possibilities further with material that's more varied in terms of theme, texture, genre, and form.