nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 17, 2008
Bride, the new theatre piece by Kevin Augustine and Lone Wolf Tribe, is monumental, epic, and audacious. It is imperfect, as all great art necessarily is; but it takes its audience to a world of singular vision and grotesque beauty—a place surely none of us has ever been before.
It's a story of creation and of the Creator. If you've been lucky to witness the growth and evolution of Augustine's work since his first piece, Once Vaudeville, about ten years ago, then you know that his prime obsession is more or less the same as Mary Shelley's theme in Frankenstein: what does it mean to create life, as Augustine does in his shows, where he crafts the rest of his cast (puppets) from foam rubber and literally animates them right before our eyes every night? How does a creator cope with the (deep, probably subconscious) knowledge that all of his creations are imperfect, that if he can just make the one perfect Thing then the quest of his Art/Life will be fulfilled?
Bride is comprised of three sections, or movements, that each explore a part of this framework. The first segment introduces us a to a God who has become overwhelmed by what He's wrought. He's presented as an old man on a throne, working a kind of celestial switchboard, over which are transmitted calls for assistance, presumably from the humans on Earth. (At one point we hear God's "voicemail" play a recorded message to the effect that He has 46,000 unplayed messages.) God's only assistant is a monkey, who helps keep Him focused by referring Him to an enormous book that appears to contain the texts of all the holy scriptures known to man.
Augustine himself plays this character, referred to in the program as Father, and his performance is extraordinary. Under layers of makeup (designed by Ana Marie Salamat), he looks decades older than he really is, and his entire physicality suggests burdens that long ago became too much to bear. Rob Lok, also remarkably costumed and made up, portrays the ape assistant with eerie grace.
The first section concludes with a spectacularly theatrical moment which leads the Father to realize that he needs help of some kind—in Augustine's vision, God Himself destroyed the other gods who used to be worshipped by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, et al, and maybe now he regrets this. But His next stratagem, which is pursued in the second part of Bride, is the attempted manufacture of a perfect rendition of His prime creation (e.g., Man). This takes the form (familiar for an Augustine show) of the evolution and training of an unnamed puppet, from baby to insecure but eagerly hopeful adolescent. The puppet, made of foam rubber, is worked, sort-of-bunraku style, by a small chorus of puppeteers; and, occasionally, by Augustine himself. Some of the animation of this creation is breathtaking. At one point, dancer James Graber appears as a manifestation of Father's thoughts, illustrating the kind of perfect grace in movement He wants His new child to achieve—another singularly beautiful moment in the show.
I don't want to give too much away, but the third and final segment of the piece moves the story toward a resolution that the second section fails to provide. In it, the title character—a 15-foot puppet representing an elemental earth goddess—literally puts herself back together in order to give the Father the help He hasn't understood He needed. Whether her presence represents the need for a Mother figure specifically, or more generally the notion of collaboration in the face of awesome circumstance, (or something else entirely), I will leave for you to decide for yourself.
Bride is as fragmented as this description suggests—the text lacks the cohesiveness that would tie the piece together in a neat package. But each of the movements in Bride represents a remarkable feat of imagination, and the realization of them—by Augustine and his co-director, Ken Berman, with collaborators Dave Malloy (sound), Shima Ushiba (costumes), Tom Lee (set and video), music (Andrea La Rose; played live by six onstage musicians), and Miranda Hardy (lighting)—is astonishing and artful. Bride explores the deepest yearnings and ponderings of the artist, in the form of undiscovered countries wrought large on stage.