nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
April 28, 2006
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Robert Wilson, the Builders’ Association, Mabou Mines, and Les Freres Corbusier by joining the ranks of “avant-garde theatres interpreting Ibsen” is Mitchell Polin’s Ordinary Theater, whose play Mustard describes itself as a renegade reinterpretation of Ibsen’s A Doll House. Double cast in the role of Nora are Kimberly Brandt and Jessie Richardson, who engage in a series of sometimes arresting but often cryptic performance art-style vignettes by themselves, with each other, and with fellow performers Ben Horner and Kristopher Kling—both of whom are oppositely double cast as Nora’s husband, Torvald. Interspersed throughout is performance artist Michael Burke, whose brash demeanor pops up from time to time to act as a sort of sightseeing guide through the world that Mustard creates.
But what that world implies and what one is supposed to take away from it, let alone where A Doll’s House fits in to all this, is not altogether clear. And it’s not as though Polin—who is the author and director of the piece—isn’t talking. Profound-sounding utterances, didactic exhortations, and self-reflective musings are sprinkled throughout Mustard like, well, condiments, but few provocative points manage to stand out among all of the philosophical clutter.
Still, I’m not sure how much that really matters, or even how seriously Polin expects one to consider all of his seemingly off-the-cuff musings. Mustard comes off primarily as an examination of theatrical form. Here the piece seems to draw more inspiration from Warhol than from Ibsen, for Mustard seems consciously evocative of a '60s art “happening” such as one might have encountered during the heyday of the Warhol Factory era. Polin accomplishes this through a collection of theatrical styles and technical elements, all of which are gamely undertaken by the performers alongside video projections and a live rock band.
Although Mustard is by no means cohesive—and doesn’t seem intended to be so—there are plenty of individual moments that are striking enough to keep one engaged for the duration. The performers all do a fine job working off each other, and Polin has keen eye for assembling an ensemble of performers who each possess a distinctive energy and style. Particularly compelling are Brandt—whose purposefully off-key singing and laid-back demeanor is reminiscent of a strung out art house diva—and Richardson as her more biting alter ego, who in trading off as Nora manage to shift from opposition to sameness smoothly from moment to moment. Also of note is the spacey and droning sound of the members of Tungsten74, who perform live throughout the show, and form an integral part in the evening’s proceedings.