Waves of Mu
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
October 16, 2008
On our way to P.S. 122, my companion told me that if this show was about what he was thinking, then I was about to understand the reason why he can't watch Ben Stiller movies.
Let me explain.
He had picked up a postcard for the show in the lobby and saw something on it about "mirror neurons." Mirror neurons are those little guys in your brain that make you feel empathy. If I see someone get cut or bleeding in any fashion, my legs go numb and I get pterodactyl-sized butterflies in my stomach. When my friend sees someone embarrassed or publicly humiliated, his mirror neurons perk up and he viscerally feels embarrassed as well.
This is very heady material for cocktail party conversation, never mind a full evening at the theatre. And unfortunately, it took a long post-show discussion with my well-read companion for me to hazard a guess at what Amy Caron may have been going for with her installation/performance, Waves of Mu.
The installation is the first part of the evening. You enter P.S. 122, take off your shoes, and become a synapse in a Brain—by walking around the space, you're carrying information from one part of the "Brain" to another. It's actually a room dressed up as a brain, complete with printed pink squishy goo photos on the walls and red velvet cushions covering the floor. I assumed it's supposed to be an artistic brain because it is incredibly packed with all sorts of bright and colorful things to touch and see and hear—and you're offered champagne and chocolates, so. . .
After a while, you enter the theatre, which, though slightly less crammed with stuff than the brain room, looks like the lab of a grad student doing a bio-anthropological study on shoes. Shoes everywhere. Really. Everywhere.
Caron sits at her desk while her lab assistants get us settled in our seats and have us sign release forms because we're about to participate in a study. All the while, a recorded voice lectures, professor-style, on . . . I couldn't quite figure it out. Definitely something to do with brain science, but there was so much going on with the assistants setting up the lab and a song blasting from speakers on the desk that I couldn't follow the audio.
And this is the problem that persisted throughout the show. Caron's desire to make this immensely interesting science—the science of the brain and how we are able to think and feel and process—accessible to the audience is clear. But her presentation of the material is not. We are shown video of a scientist offering an explanation on his research on brain science. Caron becomes bored with this and changes the channel to a football game. The game is paused just before the kick and she and her lab assistants mimic rabid football fans and enlist us, the audience, in a demonstration of The Wave (that move often performed by huge crowds at stadium events). This made my mirror neurons go crazy. I think it was supposed to illustrate what we just learned from the scientist, but it was not clear.
The scientist video is brought back throughout the evening, and each time, he is interrupted by interpretive performance. Because the interpretations of the material were unclear to me, I would have preferred to continue listening to the scientist.
Which led me to conclude that the material as Caron understood it was not yet ready for this performance state. Although her passion for the material is clear, Caron has barely scratched the surface of understanding the science behind this science, at least not enough to sustain a 90 minute show.
But I would welcome another, more refined, incarnation of this piece, as any effort to bring a clearer understanding of science to the masses, or to merge Art and Science is, in my opinion, always a step in the right direction.