nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
April 21, 2009
George Lucas famously mused (upon completing a seminal cinematic trilogy, prior to botching a second one), "A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story... A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing." The worlds of Star Wars couldn't be further from the semi-CGI environs on display in Unbound Collective's ambitious in security, but Lucas's Kenobi-like credo stands: When in security works, it is in moments of narrative verisimilitude. When it (more often) falls short, it is due to an over-reliance on fancy technology to prop up an underwritten script.
Directed with flair and alacrity by Alexis Poledouris, in security tells the story of Dr. Lona Waverton (Anna Gutto), who—on the eve of her wedding and honeymoon—finds herself pulled into an operating room to attempt a risky, seldom-performed procedure. Our multi-tasking heroine simultaneously busies herself composing song lyrics, rearranging the seating plan for her reception, and studying a handful of foreign languages. She also engages in a barrage of phone calls, from (among many others): her too-cute-to-be-true fiancé, nagging parents, and a monstrous boss (a borderline-offensive caricature of a ball-busting, jackbooted lesbian).
What sets in security apart from most solo shows (and makes it an able fit for the futuristic 3LD Art & Technology Center) is an extensive use of projected animation and video to texture Dr. Waverton's hyperactive world. Elements such as Dr. Waverton's Harvard diploma and ticking wall clock (not necessarily the best thing to place in full view of a potentially restless audience) are projected onto the bare walls of her hospital office. Also projected, with a cinematic split-screen aesthetic, are the characters with whom Dr. Waverton converses on the telephone; they are rotoscoped into cartoonish environs and interact with virtual props that would not look out of place in a Flash animation.
Though striking, the video projections cause a problem: shimmering and bright, they inevitably draw the eye from in security's protagonist, whose naturalistic style cannot compete with the broad camp displayed by many of the "video performance artists." Late in the presentation, when the projections take on a surreal, Through the Looking Glass quality, their potential becomes clear; until that moment, in security could just as effectively be presented on a bare stage with standard theatrical lighting.
in security also suffers from a main character whose central conflict never quite lives up to the wordplay in the show's title. She has a crummy job and annoying friends, but Dr. Waverton (another uncertain pun) seldom seems insecure. Though the play mounts pressure upon the character, her sudden impulsivity as the tension peaks feels odd and unjustified; She doesn't need to be less insecure; she needs to stop answering the damn phone.
As well, in security seems to reach for a statement about modern feminine societal roles (as suggested by a post-show talkback with women in the healthcare profession), though the positioning is disconcertingly vague and potentially post-feminist. The women surrounding Dr. Waverton are all horrific stereotypes (the aforementioned boss, the dainty secretary, a wanton friend with VD) and Dr. Waverton herself exhibits little behavior to suggest she's capable of balancing home with office: yes, in the 21st century women can have it all, but I'm not sure Dr. Waverton should. Several audience members could be overheard expressing this sentiment post-show, as well as the description of a sequence in with Gutto disrobes as "unnecessary."
Gutto, who wrote the piece and shares a concept credit with video and animation designer Ann Oren, must be complimented for the honesty of her performance, as well as the audacity of the technical feat attempted: The bulk of her stage time has been structured and paced to synch with prerecorded dialogue, video effects, and an array of technical wizardry. It is to her credit that Gutto never appears conscious of the practical demands of such a performance. Yet her final moments on stage are her best, and the most effective of the evening: the projectors dimmed, the lights low, she speaks into a telephone. We hear only her half of the conversation, and the removal of all artifice is enlightening.