The Architecture of Sight
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
May 20, 2005
Are photographs a true depiction of the world, or are they merely fragments of the whole that create a false image? What’s more, do the pictures of our lives lie? Are the memories created through photographs true memories? High Fidelity Theater’s remarkable new show The Architecture of Sight, now running at The Chocolate Factory, explores these questions using great music, interesting movement, a dash of multimedia and a script that’s insightful though at times a bit confusing.
I’m not sure if I lost track of the plot in places because parts of the story are told through song and movement or because of the surrealistic nature of the script. But here’s what I saw: A photographer who has a deep belief in the power of the frozen image to create truth has been having a relationship with a women solely through the pictures he has taken of her from a distance. One day, as he’s snapping pictures of her, she jumps to her death and he captures the whole thing. However, for some reason at the beginning of the play he does not remember this. He moves through a series of distractions but eventually he is put on trial and forced to confront his memories of the event. He realizes that the frozen image is not truth and that memories will fade regardless of how much he tries to preserve them in pictures. His punishment for his misguided notion is severe but seems fitting in the world of the play.
Playwright Robert Lawson creates a fascinating world where pornography is a man taking pictures and defendants swear to tell the whole truth on a camera instead of a Bible; a world where speakeasies and digital cameras coexist. His language is lyrical and philosophical and his characters are over-the-top yet still sincerely passionate. His main character, the photographer Nick, is suffering from the effects of fragmentation and loss of meaning and he is struggling to reconnect to the whole. Ironically, Lawson’s script also suffers from fragmentation, and I had trouble connecting some scenes to the whole. I’m not sure if this is Lawson’s intention, for while it contributed to my confusion about the plot it did not distort the play's overall meaning.
The music, composed and performed by Uncle Moon, is entirely captivating. It reminded me of stripped-down Tom Waits (without Tom’s gritty voice). Just an accordion, a tenor sax, an upright bass, and a guitar is all the band needs to make this musical an extravaganza. Uncle Moon seamlessly changes from toe-tapping to heart-sapping and the actors adjust in stride.
The ensemble is a talented bunch. They all have strong voices, and musical director Carl Riehl (also Uncle Moon’s accordion player) keeps them all on the same atonal page. Jonathan Farmer plays the honesty in Nick the photographer very well but he is not as adept as some of the other cast members at playing the hyper-real/noir style. Liz Wisan, Nadia Taalbi, and Meridith Loren Nicholaev, on the other hand, are exceedingly deft at capturing this style. Taalbi also deserves a nod for her great 1930s period costumes. Rebecca Gomes, Shauna Kelly, Forrest Simmons, and Erik White round out this fine ensemble.
Henry Akona’s direction is the cornerstone of what I liked about this production. His vision is clear and his choreography is well articulated. He stages the action right down the middle of the audience and he works that straight line for the levels he can wrench from it. He maintains pace and style with steady, even strokes and the slide projections and short films are perfectly placed. There are parts of the story that I may not have understood were it not for his unique staging.
Ultimately, I found The Architecture of Sight to be thought-provoking and entertaining, and that’s exactly what I like to see in the theatre. The fact that I sometimes got lost in the plot did not take away from my understanding of the play’s themes nor did it detract from the entertainment value. This show can be enjoyed for its fragments: the music by Uncle Moon, the astute script, or the tres-cool, noir style… but I enjoyed it as a whole.