“What happened?” are the first words projected on a paper screen midway through the play. The audience laughs; it’s exactly what they’re wondering. “I don’t know...Is this a movie?” comes the projected response. It is not a movie.
2 Dimensional Life of Her is not performance, puppetry, animation or art installation but a hypnotic blend of all these multimedia elements. Some minutes into the show, I realized I was experiencing something that could be conveyed by no other medium than the stage, and the world of dreams. Just like in a dream, reality in this work blurs and shifts as stop-motion projections scud across multiple screens, animation turns into live performance and back, and you’re never really sure of what you’re seeing except you know it’s not quite like anything else you’ve seen. The stated goal of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival is to offer “a crash course” in great international experimental theater--I can’t imagine a more original and triumphant lesson than this particular festival offering.
Australian director/creator Fleur Elise Noble is also the solo performer and designer of the ingenious set, which is like a character onto itself. In the foreground of the paper-strewn stage, a chair is mounted with a human-shaped cardboard cutout. Another larger-than-life human cutout leans on the back wall, which is covered by a projector screen. Large pieces of blank paper and cardboard are strategically placed around the set. Onto this mad playground, Noble projects a detailed image of a grubby artist’s studio. A video projection of Noble herself dressed in a practical black dress, hair done up in a turban, ready to spruce the place up, is projected on the cardboard cutout. Her projection disappears. Her projection reappears on different screens, scrubbing spaces in the canvases clean for her entrances. Your eyes follow her image like you’re watching a tennis match as you wait for the actual performer to appear in the flesh, but she doesn't.
Instead, projections of Noble’s own artwork, eerily beautiful stop-motion puppets, begin to come alive as it were, wrecking havoc in the studio and undoing her cleaning efforts. She scrubs them away. They reappear on another canvas. A playful struggle for control ensues and a central question emerges: does the artist control the art or the art, the artist? The underlying intellectual adventure is as exhilarating as the visual one, but you get so caught up in the fun of Noble’s imaginary world that you may not even have time to consider the profound thematic questions until later. And this is definitely one of those plays you think about later. With the invaluable aid of Jeremy Neideck’s perfectly-timed sound, Noble almost makes you believe the strange, looming creatures might just tear through the canvas onto the stage. When the flesh-and-blood Noble finally darts onto the stage in a surprising moment, she seems almost flat. This is not a detraction. It means that in a slim 30 minutes, Noble achieved something astounding: she created a projected dream world so seductive that it feels more real than the tangible one we know. If you want to know what that feels like, see 2 Dimensional Life of Her again and again.