nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
September 22, 2010
In the program for Delusion, Laurie Anderson writes, "The electronically altered voice I've used for many years...that turns my voice into a male voice has been gradually evolving from a stock voice of authority...I've written Delusion as a conversation between that voice and my own." The idea of that conversation—between the almost anonymous voice of authority and the voice of a specific person, between pronouncement and story, between male and female (and often, in this piece, mother and father), between the system and the individual—is as good a place as any to try to find a way in to talking about Delusion.
And I think it's hard to find a way in because the main event, always, at a Laurie Anderson piece is Anderson herself—her imagistic storytelling; her quiet, seductively lulling voice; her stillness. She's a known quantity at this point, and if you enjoy or are intrigued by the kind of thing that she does, Delusion satisfies as a sort of anthology (she calls it a "series of short mystery plays") of Anderson tropes, with slightly mysterious, often melancholic stories, with pointed philosophical observations and interrogations, with rich instrumental music performed by Anderson on her trademark electronically enhanced violin, accompanied by a viola and some very unusual horns. The dialogic aspect—Anderson in conversation with the alter ego "Fenway Bergamot" (Anderson using the digitally altered male voice mentioned above, which I actually find unsettling, sometimes aggressively so, but that's part of the point) adds another level of commentary without substantively changing the nature of the experience. If you don't connect with Anderson's style or her work, though, Delusion isn't going to change your mind.
The text covers wide ground—Icelandic mythology, the decline and fall of the American empire, the death of Anderson's mother, diary snippets, the mystic who originally conceived the Russian space program, a debate over ownership of the moon, Anderson's family heritage, a dream about giving birth to her own dog. And while there's no sustained narrative throughline, certain themes and preoccupations do come up again and again: love, especially familial or parental love; power and control; ancestry and heritage; pilgrimage; loss—and, perhaps above all, the question of how to live in the modern world, a world where—as Anderson puts it, quoting Melville—we may have outlived the lifetime of our god?
The visual elements (lighting design by Rus Snelling, video designed by Amy Khoshbin and filmed by Maryse Alberti) add punctuation, with little candle-like pin-spots dotted around the stage, and mostly abstract images projected on both an enormous backdrop and smaller screens and pieces of furniture on stage. But to me, the chief pleasures are in the little moments of poetry and keen observational storytelling—turns of phrase like "mildewed clothes and old resentments"; the description of a story as a mix of The Idiot and The Odyssey; musings on the wisdom of bearded animals or the strangeness of using one's mother's birth name as a "secret password hint" to verify your identity to your credit card company or bank.