This was an exercise in different kinds of reviews, completed while studying away at the Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Program in New York City in 2002
It wasn’t clear exactly when Richard Maxwell’s “Joe” actually began. A band – a guitarist, pianist and saxopohonist – played music right through till almost 8:45PM, at which point a young boy came on stage in jeans, black sneakers and a red zip-up hooded sweatshirt and stoof centre stage. Behind him, above the band, was a large black sheet of cloth which seemed to be wrapped around a mechanical revolving device tilted backward, with the highest part being toward the audience, and the lowest part being above the heads of the bandmembers.
The young boy then began to speak about a number of characters which would recur throughout the piece (Tom Arnold, Hugh Harris, Shannon, and his parents), his involvement with football and interest in football players, and introduced a number of linguistic characteristics which would mark his speech patterns throughout the play. Words like “chuckle” where a laugh could be expected, as well as “dude”, and the phrase “fuckin sweet” were delivered repeatedly with almost no inflection or intonation. At the conclusion of this boy’s little piece, during which he would blankly look from one side of the audience to another, the lights suddenly went black, except for a single spotlight on young Joe. The music started up once more, and he sang the first song of the evening. As he sings, the black cloth above the heads of the band members begins to move, and we realise that it has been punched with several holes, giving the effect of stars moving across a darkened sky. During the song, another larger figure in a hooded sweatshirt (and indeed, an identical outfit) emerged through the door obliquely behind the band, and took centre stage. The lights come up as this new Joe speaks. He too has the same expressionless face and voice, talks about football and mentions the same characters as before. The only thing which has changed is the context in which he speaks of them (he seems now to be in College), and that he is now an older Joe. He concludes his segment with a song as well, for which the lights go out, a spotlight appears on him, and the black sheet behind him once again begins to revolve as it seems more nights are passing swiftly by.
During this second College-aged Joe’s song, another hooded figure appears from the door behind and walks toward centre stage. This time, the lights do not come back up because this Joe begins a song right away. This Joe seems to be a little more emotive and less deadpan than the previous two, and seems to have more musical training for his singing seems less raw. He talks again about how women do not seem to see him, and continues the use of words like “chuckle” and “dude”. He then concludes his piece with another song, during which yet another older Joe comes out. This time, the two make eye contact while the third Joe keeps singing, after which the fourth Joe takes centre stage and also sings a song. The lighting and backdrop are identical to every previous musical interlude. This Joe has ended the meanderings of the one before through America, and has finally landed up in Florida to meet Tom Arnold. There, for the first time, he says Shannon sees him.
His segment ends with a song, and the second-to-last Joe appears. This one is very deadpan and has a noticeably different accent and speech pattern from the ones before. He concludes too with a song, and then a robot appears, painted red on the upper half, black on the bottom half, and with black shoes attaches toward the bottom near its wheels. It has a speaker attached to it, as well as what seems to be a video camera. A smoke machine puffs smoke in front of it. It speaks to us in a robotic voice, using the same catch phrases which have helped us link all of the other Joes together, and finally the first female voice is heard. Both Shannon and Joe’s mother have been mentioned around the time that a female voice is heard offering Joe water. Then a series of “ohs” and “yesses” are heard before the robot finally says, “I love you”, and the play ends.
John Kelly’s “Paradise Project” is described as the first instalment of a new work. It has been years in the making, ever since Kelly first saw “Les Enfants de Paradis” many years ago and had a profound response to the backdrop of oppressive Nazi France, the tragic love triangle central to the film’s plot, and the poignant figure of the mime Baptiste as the ever-hopeful but always love-sick pierrot. It was due to have been staged earlier this year, but was postponed due to Kelly fracturing two vertebrae in his neck.
The Project, as presented to audience members at the Kitchen in September 2002, came together after Kelly’s presentation of the Project at the last Sundance Festival, where two of the actors viewed and participated in a workshop with Kelly. The actors’ training ranged from opera-based to musical theatre-based and, for Kelly, a foundation in dance, mime and performance art. For all but Kelly, this was a foray into an entirely new kind of performance and ensemble work, blending visual media, mime, theatre, dance and music.
Kelly worked with lyricist Mark Campbell on the libretto and Michael Torke on the music, attempting, he says, to find the essences of the four characters from the film, which he distils into his project. When challenged during a talkback session by an audience member who lamented not seeing other characters he considered to have been important, Kelly defended his choices by saying that it was simply an artist’s response to the film, and not a stage or musical recreation of the original (which is over three hours long). Also asked exactly what his motivation for the project was, he stated simply that he wanted to don the Pierrot costume and dance around onstage.
Kelly is a much celebrated contemporary experimental theatre artist, recipient of BESSIE, Obie, American Choreographer and CalArt Alpert (dance) awards; and Guggenheim, New York Foundation for the Arts, Choreographer and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He has studied mime, dance, voice, and visual art in the US, Italy and France and has performed in opera, theatre and performance art pieces around the world. He draws on all of his training for his latest Paradise Project.
Dance is a very difficult artform to interpret, since there are no explicit linguistic markers for what the audience is seeing, and relies on the audience’s knowledge and imagination to respond to the piece. Third on the list of performances presented by the Trisha Brown Dance Company was “Interlude 1: Rage”. It was choreographed by Trisha Brown, with music by Dave Douglas and performed by Mariah Maloney.
The music was difficult to place, but seemed to have oriental elements to it. It leant itself to seeming at least sporadically atonal, suggesting a lack of centredness and unhinged mood to the piece. From this point of view, it seemed fitting fo a piece entitled “Interlude: Rage”. The title itself suggests that perhaps the constant emotion or mindset for the figure portrayed in the dance is not rage, but perhaps that it is a moment of unhinging which will be preceded and succeeded by a period of relative calm and containment.
The dancer is clothed in a blue sweathshirt and grey pants. Though the grey pants are seen in other dances to just be part of established costume for the night, they do create a sense of the protagonist being in a state of in between, unfocussed. The blue sweatshirt also creates a sense that this is not a world far removed from one with which we are famliar. In a sweatshirt, the dancer seems like she could be in her own home, in a library, on the street when she succumbs to what seem like fits of rage.
The choreography is limited to centre stage for most of the performance, and involves several sequences of floor work which were difficult to see from far back in the audience. Despite the constraints of the stage, there was a great deal of movement within this space. There was also a great deal of contrast within the work – moments of almost violent outbursts with large and vigirous moments, pit against moments of almost complete stillness. It seemed like the movements rode waves of anger, as anger often comes, swelling and exploding suddenly before receding into stillness once more. The movements’ spasmodic nature seemed to support the idea of the dancer almost being possessed by rage before suddenly going limp once more.
I went in to the production of “Metamorphoses” not being entirely sure what it was, since I had not heard anything about it. My only impressions were a blurry overlapping of thoughts about it being something old and Greek, of it supposedly being very “sexy” and the “number 1 show of 2001” (from critics’ reviews) and of it being something involving love and water (from the poster). I also knew that since it was a Broadway show, it would probaby have the clout to have elaborate set and lighting.
At the end of it, I can’t say I enjoyed “Metamorphoses”, or that it was anything like the must-see event I learned later it was supposed to have been. There were a few really impressive moments for me, particularly dealing with the physical performance of the actors. For example, when Midas’ daughter ran to embrace him after he had been given the golden touch and froze in a position with her arms and legs around him, and managed immaculately to maintain this pose as he lowered her into the water, it was absolutely extraordinary to watch. Some of the moments with the water, particularly when actress Anjhali Bhimani ‘dissolved’ into the water after having fallen in love with her father, were particularly effective. At other moments, the presence and use of the water seemed gratuitous and purposeless, particularly when characters would splash about for reasons perhaps not even understood by the director.
All in all, despite impressive lighting, moments of poetry in the actors’ movements, and a hilarious performance from Doug Hara as the bratty progeny of the Sun God, “Metamorphoses” seemed to be lacking in a commitment to exactly what its purpose, focus and dramatic style were. It fluctuated between moments of apparently attempting (unconvincingly) to serve as classic Greek drama, to apparently looking be a modern adaptation or spoof of the original work. It left me a little puzzled, a little cold, and altogether not feeling like I would have missed a stellar theatrical event if I had passed it by.