nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
April 9, 2011
Epona's Labyrinth is a surreal, multimedia, psycho-sexual dreamscape adapted from Kobo Abe's 2002 novel Secret Rendezvous. It tells the story of a man's journey to find his wife who was inexplicably taken away by an un-called-for ambulance in the middle of the night to a vast and bizarre hospital. In searching for her he quickly becomes caught up in the underground hospital's Byzantine politics and sexual experimentation. In so doing he seems to quickly lose sight of his mission to find his wife, first trying to find a woman's daughter who was also mysteriously abducted (an objective also soon forgotten), then becoming head of security and trying to rescue a brittle-boned 13-year-old girl held for erotic experiments. The scattershot plot is perhaps more tenable in the contemplative space of a novel, but as a piece of theater Ivana Catanese's adaptation is frustratingly aimless and lacking in spine.
Brooklyn-based The South Wing developed the piece in collaboration with the Japanese Nibroll art collective who creates work incorporating music, media, and choreography. Shige Moriya's set largely consists of a connected series of large square flats that can be slid around to alter the space. Although an effectively simple device for creating a multitude of spatial configurations, the tedious effort of the actors sliding the walls around between every scene to reveal another pedestrian combination of actor and table mostly serves to needlessly extend the already tedious runtime of the piece to little benefit. The secondary function of the flats is to act as screens for Keisuke Takahashi's ever-present and aggressive video design. Although aesthetically engaging unto itself, it feels excessive without any substantial support from Catanese's weak script. Mikuni Yanaihara's choreography is somewhat lackluster, performed with little virtuosity, and is not thoroughly integrated into the rest of the piece, consisting mostly of unnecessary runtime-stretching interludes that looked like mediocre Viewpoints exercises. Mitsushi Yanaihara's costumes are one of the show's strongest elements, constructing the familiar forms of medical uniforms out of a mismatched patchwork of unconventional textures and materials, leading to garments that are both familiar and unsettling.
For a play that claims to show a shocking world of underground sexual experimentation and deviance, it is remarkably tame. Most of the presented experiments just involve women moaning orgasmically, which is hardly taboo in a post-Herbal Essences commercials world. The play's one truly unsettling and empathetic moment involves the discovery of Ximena Garnica's fragile 13-year-old girl masturbating for the doctor's viewing pleasure. This is quickly defused, however, by the numbingly self-important drone of Gillian Chadsey's titular Epona, who serves as the piece's narrator.
Developed over years of workshops in various countries, Epona's Labyrinth shows its wide-ranging provenance in its lack of center. Director Kameron Steele appears to have become caught up in the piece's various gimmicks and in so doing has lost sight of a sense of story. The piece doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, at one moment presenting itself as deathly serious, but in the next making a pivotal revelation of an “orgasm contest.” Unfortunately the end result is mostly a cautionary example of the dangers in solipsistic experimental work.