Theater Grottesco "Storm"

Storm is a collaboration between Theater Grottesco and Out of Context orchestra which was presented at the CCA Muñoz Waxman Gallery, Santa Fe, February 17 – 26, 2012. A quasi-improvised theater work, Storm takes as its themes some of the most challenging concerns of our day: the environment, development, climate change, economic exploitation. I say “quasi-improvisational” because the piece was scripted but imagine the script being torn up into fragments and those fragments being presented at each performance in a different, maybe chance, order. No dice were thrown and, as far as I know, the I Ching was not consulted so this was not strictly a chance or aeliatory production. However, no two performances were similar.

I suppose that the themes could be losely characterized in an all-encumpasing way as the human condition in the modern world, or as John Flax, Artistic Director of Theater Grottesco, put it, “The chaos of our contemporary lives”. Lack of depth in exploring any one of these issues was more than made up for by the passion with which it was presented. The actors John Flax and Lee Reed held the attention throughout as each potrayed a number of characters who wove in and out of the video and projected sequences. Live action, projected written quotations, graphics, and video sound bites, all contributed to an enthralling production.

In its 29th Season, Theater Grottesco was formed in Paris in 1983.The company sets out to “crash classical theatrical styles with a poetic research of culture and iagination”. Out Of Context orchestra was formed by J. A. Deane in 1997 to explore musical conduction with a modern chamber orchestra and to add an actor into the expression. Conduction is real-time musical composition in which musicians produce sounds from their instruments in response to signs and gestures from the conductor.

Unfortunately there was a disconnect between the action of Theater Grottesco and the accompanying music of Out of Context because the sounds which were created by the conduction had no meaning. All of the visual material, all of he live-acted material, random in order though they might have been, all had meaning. The projected words were meaningful quotations, the video snipits contained coherent statements, the actors actions and portayals were recognizable, made contextual sense, and their words were understandable.

But there was no coherence to the music. The equivalent to the Theater Grottesco technique would have been for Out of Context to have performed recognizable fragments of relevant music in a random, or chance order. As it was, the music was merely an assemblage of sounds that made no sense and had no meaning beyond being a background, and sometimes foregound, carpet of noise. That is not to say that on its own terms, the ensemble could provide a stimulating experience in itself. But here, Out of Context created a cacophony that was a distraction which detracted from, rather than contributed to, what could have been a truly powerful theater work.

Travelling Light

Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, produced at the National Theater UK) and broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world during February 2012 as part of National Theatre Live. The play is part of what seems to be the fashion at present in that it is an homage to early film and contains a film, or rather, films, within the play.

Forty years on, Motl Mendl, a famous American film director, looks back on his early life in a remote village in Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the young Mendl is captivated by the flickering silent images on his father’s cinematograph. Jacob, the ebullient local timber merchant finances his first film and, inspired by Anna, the girl sent to help him make moving pictures of their village, he invents the art of editing and finds a new way of story-telling. The plays switches back and forth between the projected film that Menl is making and the cast of villagers involved in the production of the film.

Stage set of Travelling Light

I saw a delayed HD showing at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, and therefor experienced a film within a play within a film. A neat conceit in theory but in reality the filming of the performance only served to show in close-up the “staginess” of the production and the clumsiness of the acting.

The first few minutes teetered between hope for improvement and despair that the production was not going to take wing. The entrance of Antony Sher settled the matter. Playing Jacob, the rich timber merchant, he seemed to be channeling Tevye from Fidler in the Roof with over-the-top single-mindedness that unbalanced the production beyond redemption. Charmless acting by the majority of the rest of the cast of Jewish stereotypes, led by Damien Malony as Mendl Motl, failed engage any empathy for the characters under the uninspired direction of Nicholas Hytner. Only Lauren O’Neil as Anna, provided a single spark of the radiance that the others lacked.