nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
March 20, 2009
Yes! Here is something with enough smarts, humor, speed, and daring for this moment: Big Art Group's new hybrid production, SOS. You know the story of our apocalypse. Our overconsumption, our bottomless hunger, our obsession with technology is destroying the world we live in. Our society is materially based, in perpetual adolescence, we're always looking for the next thrill. We're being watched, we're slaves to marketing. Yes, yes. This work (masterfully directed by Caden Manson) knows you know this; it does not need to depress, instruct, or scare you about it from on high. Instead, the ensemble repurposes, subverts, re-imagines, and spits back out all the jingles, energy drinks, web obsessions, slang, logos, paranoia, newspeak, etc., in such a colorful, grotesque, gorgeous ritual, that the effect is cathartic and utterly energizing.
If you need postmodern discourse to digest art, it's there (or is it post-post?)...but you don't necessarily need it. If you keep a cell phone on your person, if you watch TV, if Facebook creeps you out a little bit, if the word "landfill" makes you queasy, if you're paying attention, the uniquely human areas of your brain are bound to light up. Also, if you've found yourself shrugging at another pedantic video installation, secretly wishing it could harness at least some of the visceral thrill of a thoughtless Hollywood blockbuster, this is your ticket.
Scenes alternate between humans-turned-animals attempting survival in a post-apocalyptic forest, two ultra-connected frenemies trying to one-up each other, and assorted twisted takes on entertainment-making. Multiple video screens fill the stage, the actors are projected in real-time as they perform, each screen offering a different view, sometimes adding visual commentary, sometimes simulated backgrounds. Complex sound design works in concert with the action onstage, often tossing in another witty layer. The makeup and costumes are glammed-up, cartoonish, lurid.
Jemma Nelson's hilarious, heartbreaking text is consummate with the audio-visual excitement, offering waves of pop culture cut-ups and verbal inversions, while also touching electrically on the edge of the fear that circumscribes our hyperactive times. The scene constructions show not only how inarticulate our culture is in expressing this fear (read: disaster movies), but also offer a taste of what it may be about. We know what technology gives us, but what does it take? And what are we when we're stripped of all of our makings?
Each moment is impeccably choreographed, and the cast is spot-on in negotiating not only the various technical elements, but also a challenging script at breakneck speed. Facial expressions and body language are manipulated to fit the larger-than-life scale of the video work—red lips cry out in shock, eyes squint and menace, lashes bat meaningfully. This is a performance with all of the parts (both on and off the stage) working in harmony, and this in itself is a beautiful thing to see.
There are no empty spaces in this piece; even transitional moments are filled with blasts of flashy wordplay video. There is no way to take in the whole picture, and this can be alternately overwhelming, accosting, and exhilarating. This is a ride you have to want to take, and in this sense, the audience is active. At any given moment each member must choose what to hear, what to watch, how to react. Theatrical and cinematic, performance art and art installation all at once, this is a work that (I fear) escapes description, and that will not leave me soon. It will only be living in New York for another weekend—a last chance to seek out your own experience of it.