< the invisible draft >
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
August 11, 2012
The conceit of Claire Moodey’s <the invisible draft> is the collision of a radio play with a silent movie--so it makes sense that the broadcast language and the (nearly) wordless performances would intersect or overlap rather than form a whole. Yet both the language and the visual component (comprising both performers onstage and in a series of fragmented projections and videos) are so abstract and discretely segmented, that the effect of the whole is more like watching different sections of a museum video-art installation than a piece of theater or even dance. And when, at the very end of the piece, the performers do break into speech, it’s to say equally abstract things in varied accents, and not in a way that seemed to me to tie the two strands together.
The piece begins by alternating between video segments and brief movement segments (later those two begin to overlap), and these first sections of movement most directly evoke silent film, with big facial expressions and stylized behavior. Both performance and video are sometimes underscored with recorded voices (less frequently, ambient sound); sometimes the voices play over an empty stage. The recorded voices mix mellifluous Italian (the voice of Matteo Paoloni, who conveys emotional qualities even to this nonspeaker of Italian) and a cooler, more dispassionate English that speaks of philosophy and history and memory (the voice of Briana Pozner). At least some of the text and images are drawn from or inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities--references to Marco Polo, philosophical musings on the nature of the city--quoting from it directly, or perhaps just working through its themes. But other sources are drawn in as well--a discussion of the etymology of the word “swan,” for example, which accompanies projections featuring origami swans, seems to be drawn from Wikipedia, and I didn’t always see how different segments related to each other.
The silent performers (brothers Maxwell and Milo Cramer), often working almost in darkness, sometimes seem to be functioning primarily to manipulate the main set piece, a patchwork, intricately layered curtain/projection screen that at times evokes a hammock, a sail, and an ocean. I wish that their movements had felt a little more choreographed, a little more intentional, in these moments.
The videos/projections, by Lotte Marie Allen, are truly striking, ranging from a sort of stop-motion animation effect with chalk drawings and paper cutouts to traditional filming of scenes to paintings. But I question whether at the end of a piece of theater, it should be the projections that stand out, and the images are definitely more evocative and powerful here than either text or performance. This effect is often beautiful, but static.
There are some lovely moments, both images and fragments of overheard text, but I was a little baffled by the whole, not least because the action happening onstage sometimes seemed almost incidental.