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LeCompte and Co.

North Atlantic, Wooster Group at REDCAT, February 10–21, 2010 – Many things went through my mind walking away from REDCAT after seeing the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic, but one of them was surely hats off to the company’s artistic director, Elizabeth LeCompte. First created by LeCompte and company in 1982, North Atlantic holds up remarkably well. The writer, James Strahs, pulled from texts by Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Gertrude Stein, and the company, anchored by Francis McDormand, Kate Valk, Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd, hit their marks with style and precision. Set on an aircraft carrier moored off the coast of Holland, the piece juxtaposes tough-talking military exchanges with kinky sexual banter, … [Read more...]

Language and its Opposite

The Walworth Farce – The longer you work in theater the more intriguing it becomes. The basic fact that audiences are able to look across an imaginary line and see into a different time and place becomes more remarkable the longer you ponder it. The embodied nature of theater - that there are bodies up there speaking the words - also seems to accrue significance. In a subtle way the embodied present of the speaking actor pulls against the basic truth claim of the words themselves, opening a little window of freedom. The fact that dramatic characters are almost never attuned to this freedom only makes statements on stage inherently poignant and ironic in a way they can never be on the page. When playwright, director and performer are … [Read more...]

The Ukrainian Surprise

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – The process by which a child learns how to navigate the world is, from beginning to end, profoundly theatrical in nature. The child imagines herself into the world of pencils, bookshelves and full-moons-in-the-sky by embodying them in the eyes of another, making the felt experience of the object personal, direct and surprisingly immediate. Watching this kind of "imaginative play" is completely engaging ("baby TV, Eliza channel," my wife and I used to call it) and there is never any doubt that your witnessing presence is allowing the learning to take place. When a piece of theater is very, very good it attains a similar kind of startling immediacy, the performers drawing on the attention of the … [Read more...]

Applauding in Poland

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – At a performance of Gospels of Childhood by the Zar Theater Company in Poland you are spared the indignity of applause. As the piece ends the performers fling open windows and exit, the sounds of the city filtering in, joining with the space. You feel the collective awareness that has formed in the room drift out into open air. The lights rise. After a time people stand as if on cue and begin to walk back into their lives. Gospels of Childhood was part of this year's Grotowski Festival in the city of Wroclaw, as was a second Zar piece called Cesarean Section. Essays on Suicide. The two pieces were billed as a diptych, but a third piece, a work-in-progress that I saw, but whose … [Read more...]

Shipwrecked – A Response

Agreed. – Wooster Group's Sci-Fi mashup of Cavalli opera La Didone offered little sense of transcendental satisfaction for the die hard opera lover (of which I am one!). And really the whole conflation felt gratuitous. But as sheer entertainment...I had a great time! First off RedCat feels the perfect spot for this kind of hyperactive performance. Wooster really makes the most of all the technology available. The sound is amped and so are the cast, ready at any moment to take one for team Wooster. Probably my favorite performance was Scott Shepard as sir Piggy. He ran around snorting and grunting executing one prat fall after another, all the while clinging to his ukulele. When at last he is shot down, he belly flops onto … [Read more...]

Shipwrecked on Planet Kitsch

La Didone, The Wooster Group, Redcat Theater, Los Angeles, June 6 through June 21 – Open on a post industrial-style stage and a lush, restless soundscape of way-distorted noise levels with smooth pulsing undercurrents of Baroque chamber opera. The sensual meets cold steel, curvy bods are clad in nicely shaped silver bodysuits. The overall effect has some charms, but like most things that charm, there is a vacuous center. In the case of “La Didone”, a 1641 Baroque opera by Francesco Cavalli, you might argue that the voiding of content began in a palliated retelling of the Dido/Aeneas romance when adapted for Carnival by librettist Giovanni Francesco Busenello. In that opera, the tragic fate of Dido, the beautiful spurned … [Read more...]