Seen (or should that be "not seen"?) Off Off Broadway:
Shadow of the Invisible Man
by Synaesthetic Theatre. Based on HG Wells' Invisible Man, this play is stylistically influenced by classic gothic and horror movies by Fritz Lang and James Whale. The show is a mix of live action interspersed with an investigative-report-style film "documentary." The script, developed by the actors, combines philosophical questions and humor with suspense, and there is extensive cross-gender casting.
The flexible set, by Paul Hudson, incorporates lots of built-in cabinets and niches which disappear when not needed. Hudson also designed the lighting, which effectively directs the audience's attention to the many interwoven scenes and locales. Costumes and makeup are by David Crittenden; film/video is by John Des Roches. Invisibility effects include a dressing gown draped on some sort of frame, with performers under the stage platform moving the arms, making it appear as if the Invisible Man is seated at a table talking and gesturing with another actor. There is also a scene where the Invisible Man, offstage, unwraps gauze bandages from around his face. I think this trick was done with lighting and a wire wig frame, but I haven't talked to the designer yet to find out for sure. An in-depth article will appear in Entertainment Design Magazine in March.
The Synaesthetic Theatre troupe is known for its multimedia approach to performance, and develops its projects collaboratively through intensive improvisational rehearsals that include the design staff. Shadow of the Invisible Man will be performed at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, through Saturday, December 1. Call 212-726-8450 for tickets. Visit the Synaesthetic website at www.synaesthetic-theatre.com.
Amy L. Slingerland
Seen at BAM's Next Wave Festival: POEtry, the latest collaboration between avant-garde theate director/visual artist Robert Wilson and rock legend Lou Reed, is inspired by the poems of the late, great American poet, Edgar Allen Poe. Rock opera? Avant-garde musical? Hard to tell, but certainly a visually interesting play with music: the songs are rather good in fact, with Reed's signature rock style pulsating throughout the evening. Wilson has long been considered a major star in Europe, where much (in fact almost all) of his new work is commissioned, including POEtry, which is a production from Germany's Thalia Theatre. But the Brooklyn Academy of Music has been a long-term Wilson supporter and champion, dating back to such productions as The Life And Times of Joseph Stalin, and the seminal avant-garde opera Einstein On The Beach, with music by Philip Glass. POEtry is every bit as visual as one expects from a Robert Wilson piece, with stunning tableaux. Some of the text is spoken in German, but the songs are all sung in English.
POEtry in motion at BAM
The upstage cyc plays an important role here. It is constantly changing color, shimmering from cool shades of white and pale blue to hot acid green and red. A large cutout of a raven "flies" out; another raven in another shape "flies" back in. A large gray box is lit from within and its 12 identical windows close automatically one by one. A free-standing black door opens as if on its own. Lighting flashes against the cyc. Scenic panels move up and down like waves on a tossing sea. The men's costumes are mostly black, with long jackets a la Poe, with the women in solid color evening gowns in shades of blue, violet, and black. These costumes give the piece a certain formalism, much in keeping with Wilson's own design aesthetic. At one point, a large number of cutouts of eyes hover in space in front of a sky-blue cyc; it is images like this that one remembers. They are visually arresting and very Wilsonesque. For POEtry, Wilson collaborated with Heinrich Brunke on the lighting and Jacques Reynaud on costumes and masks. I'm not sure what the poet Poe would have thought of his collaboration with the likes of Lou Reed, but I'm sure he heard it. The music was loud enough to wake the dead.
Seen Off Broadway: The Voice of the Turtle was one of the biggest hit plays of the 1940s, running 1,557 performances, a figure practically unheard of in its time. It’s a fascinating relic of another era, the first sex comedy in which the main action centers on when (or if) the heroine will end up in bed with her boyfriend. This rarely revived work was staged in September by the Off Off Broadway troupe Keen Company. The Times liked it, so The Mint Theatre has brought the production back for a six-week run.
Anyone interested in Broadway history will find it fascinating, but John Van Druten’s script is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s all about a struggling actress who spends the weekend with a soldier and wonders if she should go all the way; the dialogue is rather frank for the period and the wartime situation is touching, as well. The original Broadway production provided actress Margaret Sullavan with the role of a lifetime; it’s a back-breaker of a role, demanding a seemingly endless variety of moods. Elizabeth Bunch isn’t quite up to the challenge, but she is at least respectable, as is Megan Byrne as her sharp-tongued friend. Nick Toren has a firm grasp of high-comedy style as the soldier, deploying a canny mixture of charm, sadness, and humor in his characterization. Scenic designer Nathan Heverin had the nearly impossible task of fitting a living room, kitchen, and bedroom into a cramped playing area; he does it through tricks of color and forced perspective. It’s a striking piece of work. Costumes are by Theresa Squire, lighting by Josh Bradford, and sound by Stefan Jacobs. Sex comedy, as a genre, has gone away, but The Voice of the Turtle remains a lively piece of work.
Roadside is the latest musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, whose first production, The Fantasticks, is finally closing after a mere 41 years Off Broadway. Based on a play by Lynn Riggs, whose Green Grow the Lilacs was the source material for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Roadside takes us back to the Oklahoma territory at the time of statehood. The characters are not the farmers and cowmen of the R&H show, but drifters and dreamers who are never going to settle down.
The plot centers on the rocky romance between a wandering cowboy and a woman who can’t settle down, but it never comes to much more than a standard series of spats interrupted by some ballads. There’s also a show-within-a-show framework that does nothing but add length to the evening. Still, Jones and Schmidt can still write lovely songs and Roadside has plenty of them. James Morgan’s scenery turns the entire auditorium into a circus tent, and lighting designer Mary Jo Dondlinger has provided a series of vividly colored skies. The costumes are by Suzy Benzinger. You wouldn’t want to go out of your way to see Roadside, but if you end up there, you’ll certainly find it agreeable.
Seen at the Movies: The Affair of the Necklace is a rather flat historical drama, starring Hilary Swank as a marginal figure in Louis XVI's Versailles court who schemes to regain her family's property. The necklace of the title becomes a pawn in a game of intrigue involving forged letters and a rift between church (Jonathan Pryce's Cardinal de Rohan) and state (Joely Richardson's Marie Antoinette); supposedly, l'affair du coulier helped bring down the crown. The movie doesn't find a tone, though Christopher Walken, as a bizarrely bewigged 18th-century mystic, tries his darnedest to tip it into parody. But Milena Canonero's costumes are entertaining, and Alex McDowell's production design moves by scenically. Director of photography is Ashely Rowe.
Behind Enemy Lines, a fast-paced action film about a military rescue operation in Bosnia, tries very hard to reproduce the hip dynamism of Three Kings, but debuting director John Moore, who comes from commercials, displays neither the wit nor the heart found in the earlier film. Owen Wilson is an unusual protagonist for this sort of movie, but his superhuman prowess at avoiding bullets seems even more ridiculous than is usually the case. The film's kinetic camerawork is by Brendan Galvin, also a newcomer to features, and the excellent simulation of Bosnian settings in Slovakia was overseen by production designer Nathan Crowley. One notable element of the film's postproduction is that visual effects supervisor Rich Thorne used a high-speed broadband network supplied by Picture PipeLineLLC to view, coordinate, and approve the work of six Los Angeles-area effects houses. Previously, the system has mainly been used for international communication, but driving times being what they are in LA, this is a boon to efficient production.
Heard at P.S. 1 in Long Island City, NY: Audio and video installations and "Walks" of Canadian artist Janet Cardiff. The "Walks" consist of visitors donning CD walkmans or watching the screen of a camcorder, then following the artist's directions through a site. The P.S. 1 Walk wound through the back stairways and halls of the 90-year-old former schoolhouse while listening to Cardiff's recorded instructions and suggestions. Here's what the P.S. 1 press release says about the Walks:
Voices, footsteps, music, sounds of cars, and gunshots make up a fictional soundtrack to an actual walk through real indoor and outdoor spaces. Cardiff's works involve the conventions of cinema and science fiction and explore the complexity of subjectivity in today's highly technological world, where the distinction between sensation and imagination continuously collapses. In Cardiff's "Walks," characters narrate dreamlike recollections of particular events, and refer to the participant's physical surroundings. Shifting between past and present, memory and reality, Cardiff's stories become a manipulation of the "real" and of a participant's projections, fantasies and desires.
Cardiff's other site-specific Walks were showcased in a room that resembled a listening library; listeners sat at the desks with headphones and flipped through photos of the locations.
Other Cardiff works in this mid-career retrospective include To Touch (1993), The Dark Pool (1995), Playhouse (1997), The Muriel Lake Incident (1999), and Forty-Part Motet (2001), Particularly moving was Forty-Part Motet, an installation of 40 speakers on stands that provided a gorgeous wash of choral music. It seemed like each singer had his own mic--or speaker. Playhouse also was enjoyable; this one-at-a-time-please installation features a miniature opera house set, video projections, and a soundtrack played through earphones. It feels like you're in a Hitchcock film, perhaps The 39 Steps or The Man Who Knew Too Much--there's some sort of plot afoot, Cardiff's voice is in your ear, whispering about a box under your seat, a singer is singing arias, the audience is rustling and coughing. The sound experience was so immersive that I turned around several times, certain that somebody was behind me making that noise.
Many of the installations on view (or in-ear) at P.S. 1 are collaborations between Cardiff and George Bures Miller; the two artists currently represent Canada at the 2001 Venice Bienniale, where they were awarded a prize for The Paradise Institute (2001). Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, Including Collaborations with George Bures Miller will be on display at P.S. 1 through January 21, 2002, then will tour to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, and the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome. For more information, go to the P.S. 1 website for more information, and be sure to check out the Joe Brainard show on P.S. 1's third floor if you make it out there.
Heard from Hollywood: Mole- Richardson will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2002. Visit the Mole website for more information, and to fill out a brief questionnaire about how Mole-Richardson products and services have been beneficial in your career...Eastman Kodak premiered The Cinematographers' Test at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences November 14. The film, photographed by John Bailey, ASC, James Chressanthis, and Aaron Schneider, ASC, places identical scenes shot in 35mm and high-definition 24 digital video formats side by side for comparison's sake. For information on viewing the 22-minute piece, visit www.kodak.com...The USC School of Cinema-Television now offers an MFA program in Interactive Media. For course information, go to www.usc.edu.