LIGA, 50% reward & 50% punishment
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
January 7, 2009
A whimsical and serious piece, LIGA, 50% reward & 50% punishment defies simple explanation while providing a multitude of elements to consider. Presented by the Dutch group Kassys as part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival, the piece is part movement and part clown theatre, with text and intent but also a curious lightness that blessedly prevents a descent into pretension. As a kind of exploratory lampoon of socialized behaviors, LIGA delicately runs along the edge of making a direct statement. It certainly has a point to make but sees no reason to get bogged down in that. It is a curious piece, enjoyable, well thought out and experimental without being victimized by its own intelligence. This piece provides various theses with enough smarts to allow the audience to determine their answers.
The stage and video synthesis touted in production descriptions is incorporated early on as LIGA begins with a video clip of the performers coming off stage post-production. As each person enters into the frame from the stage doors, various responses to performing the piece and to the audience are expressed. Largely free of neurosis about their individual performances, the dialogue is ordinary and it has a "real life" feel as if they are all a bit inhibited by the camera. As the performers return to the stage for a final bow, their families enter the frame. When the post-show discussions peter out, each actor is carefully bundled up by his or her parent(s) and taken home. If a trifle flat, and possibly intentionally "real" in that way, the video also sets up a wonderful contrast to the liveliness of the performances to come. The video clip ends and the play begins.
Onto a bright and interestingly rubbishy set, with a technician visible on the side, enters Thijs. He immediately sets about finding his way in the space, establishing places and patterns of interacting with the set and the things to be found on it. Other players enter and there is some interaction and pattern setting. At this point none of them seems like a typically functioning adult. Their movement is uninhibited and openly reflective of their moods. While the person I was with saw the players as children at this point, it seemed much more abstracted than that to me—as if they were less sophisticated people at a basic level. They seem to be people not characteristically "adult" who are immature specifically on a behavioral/relational level rather than all parts, physical and mental, being engaged in the process of growing up through time/age. Within these limits they gallivant about the set, sometimes creating together and sometimes individually. Some moments are structured and some are simply exploring a series of movement and/or relationships to found things.
Amidst this action, the technician occasionally comes on as caretaker to remove coats and hats or to attempt a limit on the amount of mayhem that can become potentially destructive. However at some point the players discover the audience and as they establish a rapport with the audience, the technician's influence is lost within their desire to make connection. Their efforts to call attention from the audience spiral and ultimately he is forced to call in the director/performer to contain them. She quietly, authoritatively persuades the group back to the stage space and re-focuses them to a task at hand. She identifies what certain items could be imaginatively and seems to set the players to an improv, which she then observes with the technician from the side. The performers now attempt a "typical" social interaction rife with mishaps—missed social cuing as well as when is the item itself (a towel) or its imagined label (a steak).
By this point, along with the vibrant physicality, there are questions pulsating through the performance. Who are the director and the technician truly? What precisely is being explored? Is this a stage or actually a lab? Why are these characters so willing to accept the authority presented to them and so desirous of connection?
It is all very funny and never obvious exactly where the piece is going. LIGA deftly manages itself. It is a theatre piece whose structure feels like a well-composed piece of music. It is complete but comprised of movements that connect in ways that are not transparent to the viewer. Watching it, I felt I could trust LIGA has been fully thought out and while I could not fully discern those thoughts, that curious lack of clear comprehension was in no way negative.
Overall, LIGA is odd and wonderful, an experimental piece that is both challenging and complete. This production has done its work. Kassys has created a fully performance worthy/performance ready piece that it is open to audiences to enjoy. With enormous talent and wonderful cleverness, in LIGA, 50% reward 50% punishment the reward far outweighs the punishment.