nytheatre.com review by Nicole Higgins DeSmet
February 28, 2012
Where one play follows the next in rapid succession, as they do in the FRIGID Festival, it’s important to focus more on the elements that worked, and what the piece was aiming for, rather than quibble about details. Theater Reverb’s initium/finis, a collaboration with Ellery Royston and Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar, succeeds admirably in what it aims to do, which is to draw the viewer into another world using a fantastic soundscape and well-incorporated video and lighting elements to enhance the live performance.
Do you "Dream of Electric Sheep"? Have you read Snow Crash? Is Metropolis in your Netflix queue? A fan of Louise Brooks perhaps? In the tradition of retelling myths, this sci-fi noir uses elements of cult classics to create something familiar, but foreign. The piece opens with creator and performer Kristin Arnesen narrating a creation myth in Sanskrit, the visuals are psychedelic and the soundscape a collision of traditional Indian and choreographed sounds. From the beginning it’s all about Arnesen’s eyes, which are outlined in Kohl. It’s her powerful gaze that compels the viewer to move past the choppy transitions into the other world of the piece.
The world is post-human and post-apocalyptic, a paranoid delusion of a possible future. It borrows from Logan’s Run and Androids the fear and anxiety of eminent termination by the dictate of a disinterested bureaucracy at a specific and early age, in this case, 33. Arnesen plays two identical copies of the same "entertainment" model, both doomed showgirls, who dream of subverting the system.
What follows is cabaret, kitsch and unsettling. Just as you think how adorable Arnesen is, you may find her looking right at you, maybe through you. The most stunning and disturbing moment being when Arnesen as showgirl starts playing with a doll, inviting members of the audience to do things to it, or to her, as she (as showgirl) begins to become the doll. It is an excellent piece of stage work, which is also screened directly behind her, but not live, so that as you see the showgirl become plastic on stage, you also see her struggling impossibly in the footage.
I can’t say enough about the live interplay between the screen and the stage. In a world where everyone is being watched, it was captivating to be able to share that voyeuristic element. I've never seen multimedia work so well. Theater Reverb has its game on. There is some wonderful footage of decay, a snippet from Androids, and some fantastic piece of early silent film with showgirls that I couldn't quite place. And so much more. The music, composed and performed by Ellery Royston, creates a soundscape both amusing and haunting, using elements from vintage video games to Marilyn Monroe’s classic "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," serving only to draw you further down into the mysterious dark purpose of the piece.
When the performance was over, I might have been slightly confused about plot lines, but that hardly mattered. I wasn't finished with the world these collaborators created. I look forward to catching an upcoming performance at Galapagos Art Space after the FRIGID run.
You still have time to catch the last two performances as part of the FRIGID Festival though. Get to it.