Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review: Performance For One

This one-on-one intimate show reflects on the role of the audience member in the form of a hyper-concentrated 10-minute dose of theatre.  

At the Chashama Window Gallery a small part of the room is separated from the rest of the space with a white curtain. A mirror, window, and two chairs complete the tiny cubicle. It's similar to the set-ups of fortune tellers' shops, although I am not here to find out about my future but to listen to somebody else’s past.  
Yvonne Roen in Performance for One. Photo courtesy of Untitled Theater Company #61  
Behind the curtain, an actress (Yvonne Roen in my case, but she is just one of a rotating cast) sits on one of two chairs, facing the street. What is about to unfold is Performance For One. As writer and director Edward Einhorn observes in his note, “Performance For One” is not just the title, but also the form and the subject of this solo show in two parts, each of which lasts for about ten minutes.
Sitting eye to eye at arm’s length with a stranger might feel uneasy, especially without the social norms and conventions of a familiar setting. Roen doesn’t test the borders of my discomfort and right away instructs me that I can look into her eyes, or at her forehead, or, if that’s too much, at her hands. “I sometimes find that people’s hands are more intimate than their eyes. I look into many people’s eyes but don’t remember many people’s hands.” 
In her monologue, Roen talks about the memory of her late father's hands, which had a prominent “masculine” smell. But of course, this isn't Roen's memory—she's just speaking from Einhorn's script. From the beginning, the performer points out that both of us—actor and audience member—play roles. And now the third “player,” the writer, is introduced. Although unseen, Einhorn is present throughout Performance For One. The fact that the actor is the medium for his text is brought up several times, preventing me from lingering in the sweet illusion of a sincere connection to the storyteller.  
But despite the recurring meta-theatrical remarks, Performance For One not only manages to succeed as a highly intellectual show but also as an emotion-packed experience. Are tears in the theatre—whether of actor or audience member—“real"? If you cry at a fictional story, are your emotions still valid? When I hold the actress’s hand, whose hands are those at that moment? Yvonne’s and Asya’s? Or maybe those of the playwright and his decaying mother? 
It felt like only a few minutes passed from when I slipped behind the white curtain until I was back on the noisy, smelly midtown street. Yet this fleeting encounter left a mark on my day. During this short period, Roen and I made a connection. And if for Roen this moment might be lumped together with her other experiences of doing this show, for me, the memory stands out. I catch myself speculating about the inner life of the actor, and feel like in those twenty minutes I have grown as an audience member. When somebody trusts us with their story, our role entails empathetic listening, be it in theatre or everyday life.   
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Performance For One plays at various locations across Manhattan, through November 3, 2019. The running time of each of the two parts is 10 minutes. Tickets are free. RSVP to performancefor1@gmail.com to request a time. For performance dates, locations, and more information visit untitledtheater.com.

Performance For One is written and directed by Edward Einhorn. Originally developed with Yvonne Roen. Produced by Untitled Theater Company # 61.
The rotating cast of actors is Elizabeth Chappel, Joshua Coleman, Andrea Gallo, Jan Leslie Harding, Allison Hiroto, Yvonne Roen, and Melissa Rakiro.
(This review was published on theasy.com on 11/3)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review: The Second Woman

A 24-hour live performance on the border of theatre and film, The Second Woman explores masculinity through a superb durational performance by Alia Shawkat.
A woman sits in a pink room, her big blond hair done perfectly, her dress matching the carpet almost as if she herself is an element of the interior. Enter Marty. They eat Chinese takeout, drink J&B whiskey, talk, dance—and then she orders him to leave. Then this five- to six-minute scene repeats 99 more times. The same woman (Alia Shawkat), with 100 participants (mostly male but at least one woman) go through [mostly] the same dialogue over a period of nearly 24 hours. None of the participants (all from the local community) rehearsed with Shawkat; they were only given the script, along with the freedom to interpret the scene however they see fit. This process results in an array of performances of masculinity over a very, very, very long night and day in the theater.  
Alia Shawkat in The Second Woman. Photo by Nay Marie.
This “theatrical marathon” is The Second Woman, written and directed by Anna Breckon and Nat Randall. By way of Australia and Taiwan, the piece made it to BAM's 2019 Next Wave Festival. Audience members were encouraged to spend as much or as little time with The Second Woman as they desired, and to leave and come back as many times as they want. I sat through the first five and a half hours (with a quick break for Chinese takeout). Although I didn’t plan on returning and had to go to work, I found the gravity of the piece irresistible. I found myself going through the lines of the scene while falling asleep and even singing its catchy song in the shower. As the scene continued to repeat onstage without my presence, it continued to play in my head as well. The next day I impulsively ran back to BAM Fisher to find Shawkat looking as fresh as she did 19 hours prior, when she started.
What a daring, yet simultaneously perfect, choice of a theatrical debut for a film and TV actress. Shawkat brings perfect comedic timing to the piece and demonstrates astonishing endurance, sharp presence, and an ability to own the situation without going into extremes. From the beginning, she paces herself, both to save energy and to provide space for each new scene partner. But by no means is her performance dull or mechanical. Always alert, playful, and often teasing her scene partner, she makes every encounter meaningful. Her calm and collected energy urged me to tune in and just listen and watch very carefully all the people going through her door.           
And what a range of personalities and archetypes! When you see the same scene over and over again, you start picking up on the smallest and the most mundane nuances of human behavior: how does one serve drinks to their lover, how does one react when food flies in their face. After spending hours peering into the cubic aquarium of a set designed by FUTURE METHOD STUDIO, one could write a dissertation on the various ways one can perform masculinity. Some actors are gentle and timid and some try to intimidate; some have fun and others are visibly nervous and tense.    
At times The Second Woman feels like a behavioral experiment, at other times an audition. Halfway through my visit I moved from the first row to the back of the house and discovered a whole other layer to The Second Woman, namely a large real-time projection screen to the right of the stage. Along with the retro interior design and Shawkat’s hairstyle (by Sophie Roberts), this live video is one way in which the performance pays homage to its inspiration source, the 1977 Cassavetes film Opening Night.
The live video is supported by a team of female and non-binary creatives: two camera operators on stage and two vision switchers behind the scenes. The gauzy fabric covering the walls of the cube serve as a hazing filter that provides a filmic look to the dramatic closeups of the scene. The added presence of the camera’s gaze increases the voyeuristic effect, reminding us how much our behavioral stereotypes and patterns are borrowed from film and TV. 
The placement of the screen is somewhat strange—it isn't visible from house left, whereas the inside of the main set isn't visible from house right (so few people watch from there). Conceptual boldness or set design failure, this suggests how the same event might look different from various angles. And just as actors control the mise-en-scene and the live cinema crew controls the screen image, audience members are free to change seats as often as they wish, something that traditional theatre-goers are not accustomed to.        
Similarly, as the scene unfolds over and over, it constantly shifts its meaning, depending on multiple variables: who comes through the door and how he is going to behave; how Shawkat feels and how she responds. I too went through several modes of perception. To me The Second Woman was in turn many things: a soapy melodrama about a mistress coping with her position of “number two” day in and day out; a playground for a single actress where she constantly invents new ways of kindly messing with the male participants; a meta-theatrical and meta-film commentary on the ways we think about gender dynamics. 
And then it all became “real” during the last scene I witnessed. One participant decided to veer from the safe common ground of scripted dialogue into meaningless improvisation, even getting a bit handsy during the dance. This was the fastest Shawkat pressed the stop button on the stereo and said her last line: “Marty, I think you should leave,” thrusting forward a hand with a $50 bill in it, as she had done dozens of times before. He grabbed it, balled it up, and threw it in her face, saying something like “So weak!” The audience gasped with shock and disapproval. Shawkat went on a 15-minute break (which she took every two hours or so). I exited BAM, processing what caused a man to perform such hatred to any woman, fictional or not. Where does theatre end and real life begin? With The Second Woman, it appears that line is blurry.     
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The Second Woman played at BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place, October 18 - 19, 2019. The running time was 24 hours. For more information visit bam.org.
The Second Woman is written and directed by Anna Breckon and Nat Randall. Produced by Performing Lines. Set Design by FUTURE METHOD STUDIO. Lighting Design by Amber Silk and Kayla Burrett. Sound Design by Nina Buchanan. Hair and Makeup Design by Sophie Roberts.  
Performed by Alia Shawkat and 100 (mostly) male participants. 

(This review was published on theasy.com on 10.20) 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Review: Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Irish dance company Teaċ Daṁsa brings a familiar plot into contemporary Ireland, weaving fantasy and reality in a melancholic yet hopeful tale of abusive power clashing with empathy.

Do you remember sweet melancholy followed by excitement when you caught the first signs of fall; the first colored leaves in August, the first chilly morning in September? Very unexpectedly, I had a similar feeling of winter approaching yesterday when a feather landed on my shoe during Swan Lake / Loch na hEala. This production of Teaċ Daṁsa premiered in London in 2016 and was chosen to open BAM’s Next Wave festival under its new artistic director, David Binder.
Alex LeonhartsbergerRachel Poirier, and Mikel Murfi in Swan Lake / Loch na hEala.
Photo by Marie Laure Briane.
Even the building of the Harvey Theater has received an upgrade (rough walls preserved, entrance entirely redesigned, and—finally—there's an elevator to the balcony level), not to mention getting rebranded (it’s BAM Strong now). The atmosphere of celebration electrified the air on opening night. And yet there was a dollop of melancholy, inevitable during the celebration of a major transition. What a peculiar choice for an inaugural show. And how interestingly it reads in the context of current political events. Or maybe it’s just my ex-Soviet collective memory that got triggered by Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, which played on a loop on TV during the government overturn in 1991?
Ominous nature aside, there is not much of Tchaikovsky left in this adaptation, written, directed and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan. The action is set in modern-day Irish Midlands. The twists of the “magical” plot are quite earthly. Instead of a sorcerer, there is an abusive priest (Mikel Murfi) who has sexually assaulted Finola (Rachel Poirier), and threatens to transform her and her three young sisters into “filthy animals” unless they keep silent. Instead of Prince Siegfried, there is depressed 36-year-old Jimmy (Alex Leonhartsberger), whose only comfort is to smoke cigarettes. “The Queen” is Nancy O’Reilly (Elizabeth Cameron Dalman), a frail woman in a wheelchair crippled by arthritis.
The narrator (also Mikel Murfi) starts the play as a kind of “nasty animal” himself. Tied to a block of concrete by the neck, he walks around in his underwear bleating like a goat, as the audience members take their seats. After the rituals conducted upon him by an ensemble of three men, he receives the ability to speak. Murfi also plays other power-possessing, “speaking” male characters, including a priest, a politician and a policeman. His swift transformation is just enough to signify a change of the “mask” but ultimately, these are all just different sides of the same multi-faced “evil” entity.
The narrative (mostly by Mikel Murfi) is intertwined with whimsical dances performed by the two main protagonists and six ensemble members. Jimmy and Finola barely make any sound but glide noiselessly in their beautiful ballet. Effortless, sometimes playful, choreography by Keegan-Dolan effectively uses symbolic props like wings and concrete blocks. Set design by Sabine Dergent consists of ladders on which the winged girls occasionally climb, along with minimal elements like a table or a piece of tarp pulled in and out for different scenes. Live, traditional Irish and Nordic score from the trio Slow Moving Clouds, seated on the platform upstage, accompanies Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, suspending the action in absolutely magical, eerie music.
In Teaċ Daṁsa's Swan Lake, a glimmer of hope shines upon mundanity and despair. And despite the tragic fate of the protagonists, love and empathy have a chance in a world where there is magic. I am not only referring to the magical realism of falling in love with a swan-girl, but the magic of dance. The humorous absurdity, physical liberation, and visual poetry of Keegan-Dolan’s choreography linger long after the last feather falls down.
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Swan Lake / Loch na hEala played at BAM Strong - Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, October 15-20, 2019, as part of BAM's Next Wave festival. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets started at $30. For more information visit bam.org.

Swan Lake / Loch na hEala is written, directed, and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan. Produced by Teaċ Daṁsa. Set Design by Sabine Dargent. Costume Design by Hyemi Shin. Lighting Design by Adam Silverman. Music by Slow Moving Clouds.
The cast is Rachel Poirier, Alex Leonhartsberger, Mikel Murfi, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Zen Jefferson, Anna Kaszuba, Saku Koistenen, Erik Nevin, Latisha Sparks, and Carys Staton. Musicians are Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond.

(This review was published on theasy.com on 10.16)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: "I Can't See"

Psycho Clan’s new multi-sensory theatrical horror, experienced blindfolded.

“This is decidedly NOT, we repeat NOT, a haunted house" states the website of I Can’t See. Nevertheless, the idea of going through an immersive horror experience blindfolded seemed rather scary to me at first. Upon arrival at Optecs, a fictitious clinic/research facility, we are greeted by a creepily smiling staff in lab coats. With a sleep mask, a second blindfold to ensure that no ray of light goes through, and a headset, we're instructed to prepare for a horror that will take place entirely in our imagination. Each person or group is given a sour “pill” and so begins the “download” of the experience into our brains.
Participants in I Can't See. Photo by Russ Rowland

I Can’t See is designed by Timothy Haskell and Paul Smithyman of Psycho Clan, the team behind the extreme serial killer experience This Is Real. Their new horror event is inspired by W.W. Jacobs’ classic ghost story "The Toll House" and invites the audience to a fun and creepy night out with friends. The voices in your head will address you by name (I was "Sam"), making it clear you are “playing” a character. Although playing might be a stretch since, for the majority of the experience, you will helplessly cling to ropes, banisters, and other objects placed under or in your hands by unseen facilitators.
Here we are at the carnival. Somebody hands me a stuffed animal while cheery carousel music accompanies a conversation between "my" friends. And now, holding a rough rope, we walk through the fun house; the floor beneath my feet wobbles to my immense pleasure, and I can’t stop giggling even though I don’t see any funny-looking reflections (a brilliant non-literal translation from the visual to tactile). A snake boy “licks” my neck at the circus show, spiky plant life brushes against my arm, while at the bar… I don’t even want to tell you, so as not to ruin the surprise.
I Can’t See reminds me of those DIY “haunted houses” you might have created as a kid—a blindfolded person would stick their hand into a pot of cold spaghetti ("brains") or be given a peeled grape (an "eye"). I Can’t See tricks you using similar sensory attraction, but with even cleaner products. And while you are offered a poncho, not wearing it will provide for the fullest experience. But definitely wear comfortable shoes and clothes, as you will be prompted to move around, sit down, and stand.
Besides the various textures that touch you or that you touch, a bit of wind, a little water, and even smells come into play. But for some reason, only the gross ones. The creators of I Can’t See proudly call the show “sensory assault,” but I can’t see a reason not to add a few pleasant smells of the fairground (like popcorn) alongside those of a dirty dive bar or creepy old mansion. (One's taste buds are also engaged in two scenes, but not in any violent or dangerous way.) Expanding the smell palette would certainly add to the atmosphere of each location, as well as help to enhance the contrast between the fun, joyous beginning and the mortifying finale.
I Can’t See has its scary moments, but most of them are fed to us through the marketing materials and  onboarding process. Of course there's also the fact that we are deprived of our vision. It's amazing how much I, as a sighted person, am used to relying on sight to get around. So an experience designed around storytelling through non-traditional means of touch, smell, and taste is exciting; I would recommend I Can't See to anyone who is interested in immersive theatre. The audio narrative and sound design (by James Lo) is on the more traditional side, but does its job in keeping the story together, so those who are new to immersive experiences will be comfortable too. I just wish the fact that we are sightless was woven into the narrative.
If you're nervous about the immersive part, I generally felt safe and had fun, even when I was a bit scared. The only time I felt real discomfort was when somebody pushed me against the bar—ever so slightly, but with their entire body. GIven that we are entirely in the hands of the facilitators, this feels way too intrusive and unnecessarily intimate. It seems as if anything that might come off as "unsettling"—even physical contact—gets reframed as “playing pretend." But Psycho Clan would be good to remember that their audience—who are blindfolded—might be more vulnerable than they would imagine. It is also strange that there is no safe word or any other reliable way of communication. My recording didn’t work for the first few minutes of the experience and I couldn’t tell if my signals for help were misunderstood, ignored, or missed.
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I Can’t See plays at 133 Greenwich Street, through November 3, 2019. The running time is 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 (you must enter during your allotted time slot). Tickets are $45 until 10/17; $50 after that. Student rush tickets are $20 with ID (ages 12-15 must have a parent; under 12 not admitted), and can be purchased 30 minutes before the show. For tickets and more information visit at nightmarenyc.com.

I Can’t See is by Timothy Haskell and Paul Smithyman, based on "The Toll House" by W.W. Jacobs. Produced by Psycho Clan. Production Design by Paul Smithyman. Sound Design by James Lo.
(This review was published on theasy.com on 10.3)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Review: 'Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969'

An immersive psychological thriller kills with its stellar visual and audio design but lacks narrative coherence.

I sit at the table in a funky karaoke bar, when Crispin (Brian Alford) asks me if I have any books at home that I haven’t read yet. I nod. “What makes you think that when you open one of those books, you won’t just see blank pages”? Okay… He then says something about some people being similar to those blank books: there is nothing behind their eyes, no inner life. Crispin stares at me intensely, his face inches away from mine, and I can’t tell if he is messing with me or truly believes his own words. After all, this is a gathering of he Poe Society and we are here to summon the writer's spirit.            
The cast of Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? Photo by Michael Gallo.
Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? is a remount of Poseidon Theatre Company’s 2017 productionand casts the audience as new members of the Poe Society. This time around, the action takes place in 1969, not 1949, and the format is an immersive sandbox, meaning that audience members are not confined to their seats or specific tracks and are free to explore and follow any character.  
For the first hour of the show, we are encouraged to have drinks and food and mingle with the established society members: paranormal activity scholar Gina (Samantha Lacey Johnson), free-spirited musician Jimmy (Johnny Pozzi), eccentric Anna (Makaela Shealy) and Tom (Aaron Latta-Morissette), the owner of the joint. Siblings Crispin (Brian Alford) and Cordelia (Estelle Olivia) are attending for the first time but seem to fit right in with their calm and slightly creepy demeanor.   
All of these characters have their own experience with the paranormal, which they gladly share with anybody who asks. I venture into the discussion about fate with Cordelia and sing along to "The House of the Rising Sun" with Gina and Jimmy. For a moment I even forget that I am in a theatre. The happening seems exactly what it portrays: a 60’s-themed cocktail party in an artsy underground club (venue design is by Seok Huh), which, by itself, is pretty cool. The period design—costumes by Samantha L. Johnson and hair and makeup by Jeremy Gatzert—is spot on. Some audience members even dress up as a nod towards the era, which creates delightful confusion around who exactly are actors and who participants.               
The ring of a bell interrupts conversations mid-sentence. As explained during the onboarding, we have to refrain from speaking once the seance starts. Highly theatrical motions of purifying the room and the show-stopping appearance of Madame Harlow (Dara Kramer) are perfectly suitable for the occasion. Anticipation builds and then…the seance goes out of control as spirits possess the members of the Society one by one. Heavy metal doors are slammed and tiny karaoke rooms become chambers of fear, hope, despair, and pathos. The original score (by Manuel Pelayo and Giancarlo Bonfantia), coupled with the sound design (by Sung Oh), makes the hair on my neck stand up. The spectacular lighting evokes the gory, mind-twisting atmosphere of Dario Argento’s giallo films with restlessly vibrant, contrasting colors.
Since its premiere two years ago, Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? has significantly advanced in some aspects, but failed to achieve more clarity in others. Changing the format from a dinner party to an immersive experience serves the show well; bringing the action to 1969 allows for some alluring visual design, and the designers thrive on it. However, the structure and the plot still remain somewhat underdeveloped. There are some vague hints as to the personal circumstances of each character that comes through, but the parallels could be clearer.
After spending an hour mingling with our hosts, I got attached to some of them and would love if the poetry would allow me to look more deeply into their souls. The mysterious circumstances of Poe’s death and "the cooping theory" are briefly addressed in the beginning of the show, but are soon dropped from the picture. Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? might not give you a clear response to the titular question, but if you are up for an atmosphere of new perspectives on theatre, this show is for you.
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Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969 plays at RPM Underground, 244 West 54th Street, through November 2, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with no intermission. Performances are Mondays at 7, Wednesdays at 3 and 7, and Saturdays at 3 and 7. Halloween week performances will be Monday at 7, Tuesday at 7, Wednesday at 3 and 7, Thursday (Halloween) at 8, Friday at 7, and Saturday at 3 and 7. On Halloween, all ticket holders will be invited to a costume party contest hosted by the Poe Society. Tickets are $75 and are available at knock3xs.com. There is a $25 beverage/food minimum per guest.

Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969 is conceived and directed by Aaron Salazar. Co-direction and Book by Nate Raven. Additional Material by Edgar Allan Poe. Original Score by Manuel Pelayo and Giancarlo Bonfanti. Sound Design by Sung Oh. Venue Design by Seok Huh. Costumes by Samantha L. Johnson. Hair and Makeup Design by Jeremy Gatzert. Associate Producer is Rachel Shaw. Stage Manager is Allie Marotta.
The cast is Brian Alford, Samantha Lacey Johnson, Dara Kramer, Aaron Latta-Morissette, Estelle Olivia, Johnny Pozzi, and Makaela Shealy.
(This review was published on theasy.com on 10.03)

Review: 'Antigone'

The Ancient Greek drama, seen through the prisms of Japanese and Indonesian traditions, captivates with its universal timeliness and theatrical magic.
 
The grandiose, 
55,000-square foot Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory seems a perfect space to host Antigonedirected by Satoshi Miyagi for the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center. The stellar design by Junpei Kiz features an 18,000-gallon pool of water in lieu of a stage, where 29 performers glide ankle-deep, dressed in white garments suggesting futuristic kimonos or superheroes’ attire. This is the first image one sees when taking a seat before the show begins; the quiet splashes of black water have a tranquilizing effect. In fact, I suspect I was hypnotized and spent the intermission-less 105 minutes drifting in the subconscious of world theatre.
The cast of Antigone. Photo by Christophe Raynaud de Lage.
This Antigone is performed in Japanese (with English supertitles). But don’t worry if you have trouble following or don’t remember all the twists of Sophocle’s tragedy: there is a playful and unexpectedly comedic prologue in English, which summarizes the plot. Two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, kill each other fighting for the throne. Creon, their uncle and now the king of Thebes, orders Eteocles to be buried with honors but lets Polynices’ corpse rot in the sun, as he was the aggressor. Their sister Antigone flouts the king’s edict and conducts a burial ritual over her “traitorous” brother’s body, proclaiming that the laws of gods are superior to human laws and choosing to follow her heart in protest of patriarchal authority.        
This drama about morality, resistance, and justice, seen through the prism of Buddist philosophy, proves to be timeless and universally significant. Every society has to manage the dynamics of power, whether between rulers and citizens or men and women; every culture establishes a relationship with death and rituals of transition. In many spiritual belief systems, water is considered to separate the world of the living from that of the dead. That’s where the magnificent set design comes into play. In this Antigone, everybody already belongs to the world of the dead, to history, to the canonical texts of western civilization. 
The story comes alive when a monk-like figure appears (the only person not dressed in all white), arriving on a boat and distributing the wigs that transform some of the chorus members into key players. Miyagi combines Japanese Noh and Indonesian shadow play to tell this ancient Greek story. The action is decoupled: for each character, one actor stays atop of one of the rocks scattered in the pool and performs the movement (minimal, yet expressive and doubled by a giant shadow); a second actor kneels in the water and delivers the speech. Splitting the characters in the Noh manner demonstrates the wisdom of Buddist detachment and the beauty of one-ness. Enchanting live music and occasional choral enhancement of the dialogue creates a dynamic soundscape (by Hiroko Tanakawa) that spellbinds the audience even further.      
I have a soft spot for a self-aware theatre. People can watch a TV show or go to the movies if they are only looking for drama, but the theatre is still needed to allow audiences to congregate and reflect on the ways of our species, silently yet collectively. Shizuoka's otherworldly Antigone provides this experience by bringing the generous gift of Eastern theatrical traditions to the predominantly Western audiences of the Park Avenue Armory. 
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Antigone plays at Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, through October 6, 2019. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Monday through Thursday at 7:30, 
Friday and Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 2 and 8. Tickets are $65 and are available at 
armoryonpark.org or by calling 212-933-5812.

Antigone is by Sophocles. Translation by Shigetake Yaginuma. Directed by Satoshi Miyagi. Space Design by Junpei Kiz. Lighting Design by Koji Osako. Composer is Hiroko Tanakawa. Costume Design by Kayo Takahashi. Hair and Makeup by Kyoko Kajita.
The cast is Kazunori Abe, Maki Honda, Micari, Kouichi Ohtaka, Yoneji Ouchi, Daisuke Wakana, Takahiko Watanabe, and Soichiro Yoshiue.
(This review was published on theasy.com on 10.5)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: 'Theatre In The Dark: Carpe Diem'

This Is Not A Theatre Company performs in your mouth and your nose.

Theatre In The Dark: Carpe Diem is exactly what the title says: it happens in complete darkness. You can’t see anything. If you came to see Play!, which runs in repertoire with Theatre In The Dark, you wouldn’t even know that it happens in the same space. After checking belongings and washing hands, audience members are given a sleeping mask. Blindfolded, they are led...somewhere...in chains of four, hands on the shoulders of the person in front. This is a lot of trust that is asked for by a stranger, but thanks to Mee’s mom-like demeanor ("wash your hands before the meal") and thorough safety instructions (there are substitutes if you are allergic or have a specific diet) everybody warms up to the affair quickly. 
Audience members in Theatre In The Dark: Carpe Diem. Photo courtesy of This Is Not a Theatre Company. 

The show consists of a half dozen thoroughly curated “scenes.” Through speakers somewhere in the space, we hear sketches by Jessie Bear, Anonymous, TS Eliot, and Proust, each accompanied by things we can touch, smell, and taste. A gentle touch on the shoulder or a whisper in one’s ear informs us that it is time for a new treat. On the velvet table cloth, my hand finds a piece of food or a small plastic cup with liquid. As instructed by the subtitle, I savor the moment and enjoy the sudden unveiling of poetry, not only in my ears but also in my nose and mouth. A truly mind-blowing experience! 
For a medium that traditionally relies heavily on visuals, depriving an audience member of their sight is a fascinating concept for a sighted person. Dining without seeing proposes that our sense of taste is heightened by the darkness. These tastings then “narrate” through the experience. An existential dialogue between a vase and a bottle is followed by an invitation to choreograph a dance of the chocolate. I find a piece of chocolate in front of me and roll it around on my tongue, trying to match my movement to the music. I feel a feather touch my neck for a brief moment; another tickling sensation comes as somebody whispers close to my ear. The evening consists of several unconnected vignettes, which might not seem like coherent storytelling. But surrendering the narrative puts the “spectator” in the dark, allowing for a new kind of theatre, one with its own strange and beautiful logic.         
This Is Not A Theatre Company is known for site-specific shows. But this time they outdid themselves by bringing the performance to the audience’s mouths. Sure, other theatre productions feed the audience: the recent revival of Sweeney ToddNetwork (for those who paid), Midsummer: A Banquet to name a few.  But rather than merely enhancing the experience, the food here becomes the focus of one’s inner journey, an equal artistic means. There is also the use of smell: different scents are sprayed during different scenes, to accompany the storytelling.    
Conceptually elaborate and effortlessly executed, Theatre In The Dark is a successful innovative experiment. The only thing I wish were different: the speed with which the scenes follow each other—I could barely keep up. I enjoyed the few brief moments without verbal narrative—if only there were more. Given the heightened use of the other senses, there is the temptation, if not the time, to linger, savoring each little crystal of sugar on the tongue, and sniffing that strange yet familiar scent until it thins off to the point where you can no longer grab it on your next inhale. 
It is a little disappointing to take off the mask at the end and discover the mundane scene: a bare room, plastic tables covered with black velvet, six strangers looking confused. It’s like when somebody explains a magic trick: the satisfaction in knowing the "how" is then followed by disappointment. Not everything should be brought to light when the mysterious might be anything.                 
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Theatre In The Dark: Carpe Diem
 plays at Theaterlab, 357 West 36th Street, through October 6, 2019. The running time is 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 9; and Sundays at 7. Tickets are $30 ($25 for students with valid student ID). Discounted tickets are available for those who see both Play! and Theatre in The Dark: Carpe Diem on the same night. For tickets and more information visit thisisnotatheatrecompany.com.

Theatre in The Dark: Carpe Diem is conceived and created by Erin B. Mee. Text by Jessie Bear, Anonymous, TS Eliot, and Proust.
(This review was published on theasy.com on 9.22)