nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 24, 2009
Temporary Distortion is back at P.S. 122 with another installment of their now-signature style of high-tech, visually striking productions. This one, Americana Kamikaze, is as riveting as the last one I saw, but this production seems to go with their style a little better because the subject matter, a creepy ghost story, matches their slow and chilling aesthetic perfectly.
The story is not at all linear. It starts somewhere near the end and then loops back around on itself. Two couples are haunted by a spirit that creeps into their minds, their bedrooms, and their subway commute. The couples are two sides of an American/Japanese coin—both experiencing this haunting in their respective cities until they finally realize that this spirit cannot be defeated and they give in. Believe me, I didn't give away the ending here. I'm not even sure that's what happened. Plot is not the focus of this production. There is no narrative. Instead the focus is the mood and atmosphere of the theater. The music is droning, the film is graphic, the set is constraining, the acting is stark, and together they create a very cool sense of dread.
Writer/director Kenneth Collins has created a style all his own. His influences seem to be Brecht and David Lynch. His dialogue ranges from the bizarre to the mundane. He starts us off with a scene that is actually pretty funny but that would be the only one. The rest is mostly spooky or sad. Collins's concepts for the look and feeling of a performance are really what make his style so completely captivating. He has his actors whispering into microphones as if they were laying next to each other in bed, only they're certainly not. They stand confined in coffin-like boxes that change colors while they speak directly out over the audience, never looking at each other or touching or relating in any way. Their delivery is almost completely devoid of emotion. Their faces are just as deadpan. A tall, thin board stands between them and is used to project the film of the same story. The film is where the emotion resides. I found myself very wrapped up in the droning music and dialogue, and that juxtaposed so seamlessly next to the film made me feel connected to another world. A world that Collins has recreated just long enough for us to experience its mystery.
The film is extremely well done. The production design is beautiful and the editing and graphics are great. The film could easily stand alone. Created by William Cusick, it is truly its own character in the performance. But that's true of all the production elements of this show. John Sully's eerie music and sound design has its character. The tight, mood-lit set in the middle of a dark black box theater has its character. The actors' dedication to deadpan has its character. I was impressed with the cast's ability to hold that state of disconnection. The cast, Brain Greer, Yuki Kawahisa, Lorraine Mattox, and Ryosuke Tamada, are great both live and on film. Also, the execution of the technical elements is completely seamless and that really adds to the illusion of the show.
Americana Kamikaze is a sleek translation of the unconscious mind into a postmodern theatrical experience that knows pictures tell a better story than live actors. You are not likely to see anything like it. And if you do you may very well be dreaming.