nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 2, 2006
Several of the theatre artists who I most respect are fervid fans of Banana Bag & Bodice; so I was eager to see the work of this experimental theatre company. Their newest show, The Sewers, is playing right now at the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator, and I'm glad to have caught it.
This is, first and foremost, a technical marvel: the set, designed by Peter Ksander but presumably conceived in collaboration with director Mallory Catlett and author Jason Craig (and perhaps the other BB&B company members as well), is astonishing: a weird, off-kilter room, with a metal grating on the floor and only a few light sources hanging above and just a few pieces of furniture—a slanted table and a couple of chairs. The place is indeed suggestive of a sewer, but a sort of surreal nightmarish vision of one; a sewer where some people actually seem to live.
Most remarkable are the seemingly endless number of little cubby holes and crevices and nooks and crannies, all tucked away in the walls and floor of this strange place, from which all manner of surprising things emerge. Bits of food, cups, appliances, even a bedpan are apparently stocked in these spots, all of them essentially unseen (or at least unnoticed) until somebody pulls them out into view.
This environment is a physical manifestation of what I think The Sewers is about—the shifting of perspectives; the ways that a different point of view can make something look or behave entirely differently from the way we initially expected or believed it to.
There's a story, or perhaps more aptly, a text, by Jason Craig: it's about a man who says he's a playwright and that furthermore he's written the play we're seeing, in which two women portray his wife and his sister-in-law (or are they REALLY his wife and sister-in-law, acting in his play?). The play-within-the-play has a stitched-together, improvised quality that belies both the "playwright's" claims and the carefully modulated performance that we're witnessing. Perspective, again.
There's a fourth character, played by the excellent Rod Hipskind, who is silent until the final moment of The Sewers. His function is to move the furniture and light the space, but he's no stagehand—he is, in fact, the leading character, as far as I'm concerned; possibly the play's protagonist. He's never less than compelling to watch, as he slowly shifts the sparse set pieces from spot to spot, moving with a careful precision reminiscent of an actor in a Robert Wilson show. Sometimes the effects he creates morph the objects he's working with/upon in breathtakingly unexpected ways: perspective, yet again.
The lighting, which is mostly executed by this silent Super-supernumerary, is designed by Miranda K. Hardy, and the soundscape, which the program tells us was created using Cricket software, is by Dave Malloy (original music) and Jamie McElhinney (sound consultant). The contributions of these artists are invaluable and, in their own way, quite spectacular.
So, does all this wizardry and wonderment add up to a fully engaging evening of theatre? I have to confess that for me the answer is no: The Sewers is a marvel to behold but very cold and detached to sit through. I connected intellectually with moments, and I was astounded by the craft and ingenuity of the creators throughout. But nothing emotional happened to me in the room: I left The Sewers with an awareness of purpose and artfulness, but, alas, almost entirely unmoved.