EXITheatre is a small, experimental theatre company with a special interest in performing in unconventional spaces. Their current production, "UNDO", is an exploration of various creation myths, both contemporary and classical, through dance, text and ensemble presentation.
The space theyre performing in is a vast aircraft hanger at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station. Sheets hang from the rafters to define a sequence of rooms which the audience moves through, first sitting on milk crates, then standing, and finally perched on bleachers. The company is very young, mostly undergraduates and perhaps even a few high school students. Their style could fairly be described as traditional experimental theatre.
Thats really where the problems begin. The show opens with a shadow dance, behind the bedsheet scrim, during which theres an invocation filled with portentous declarations about time and space and the general bigness of eternity. Then theres a bit of disruption, which breaks the illusion of performance, and the cast comes forward to perform a kind of parody of "old-fashioned" theatre. The content is a creation story filled with cute allusions to dot com entities and topical references to keep the myth-making relevant. The technique was innovative for Pirandello in 1920.
Now our passage moves backwards through time by way of some childhood games, a reminder that the Internet can be rather depersonalized, a medley of TV theme song kitsch, some sort of Egyptian ceremony of the Dead, and finally a large-scale, quasi-mystical New-Age finale, where the beginning of all-time and all-space apparently has some connection to Enya-style gauziness and walls all falling down.
Throughout this performance, what I saw was not experimental or avant garde theatre, but a compendium of non-traditional ideas that emerged in the early part of the century, and ideas borrowed from practically everyone since. There was a piece of staging from Richard Foreman here, a touch of Julian Beck there, decorative garnishes of Brook and Grotowski and under-budgeted Robert Wilson. Of course, theres nothing inherently wrong with using other peoples inventions, but they should at least support your own ideas. You should at least have your own ideas. Very young people seem to still confuse the obscure with the profound, and incoherence with the metaphysical. But what I found especially lacking here was a thorough engagement with this particular theme and performance space, and some sort of integration of style and content.
For example, "Creation" presumably has a good deal to do with time and space. Here, we move chronologically, albeit on a backward path. Wow. As for Space, how often does one have a playing area the size of a football field? And what did they do with it? They broke it up into a series of small rooms, and had us walk through them in the same manner as the performers, who essentially used the areas as large, flexible proscenia. The obvious opportunities for using unbroken space, for volume and distance and perspective to add something to a consideration of the concept of creation, all went unexamined.
Im as tired as anyone of the claptrap conventionality of most plays. I love the idea of making the place where performance happens a part of the events content. I want to be startled and thrilled and disturbed and even confused by radically new ideas. I suspect thats what the enthusiastic followers of this company are also looking for. And this group of committed, even talented young players are clearly capable of creating just such an evening. But instead of a startling new recipe, filled with unfamiliar and tantalizing spices, we were given chowder made with tomato instead of cream. Different, but hardly enough.
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