nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 8, 2009
Naturalistic narrative and movement-based performance art collide in AOI!, a theatre piece created by The South Wing that's being presented in the undergroundzero festival. For me, the collision didn't particularly work; but the precision, rigor, and skill of the ensemble under the direction of Kameron Steele is consistently impressive. The spare set design by Mariano Marquez and the costuming of Ardith Ibanez Nishii (the highlight of which is the transformation of Craig Dolezel into a very convincing and scary dog) are also noteworthy.
AOI! is based on the story "The Lady Aoi" by Yukio Mishima. In this version, the Wife (Aoi), is alone in a hospital bed when we first meet her. Eventually, her husband William arrives, explaining to the Nurse that he was delayed by business affairs. It's not entirely clear how long he's been delayed—maybe several days?
The Nurse reveals that Aoi has been visited late each night by Mrs. Benson, who turns out to be a former lover of William's. (She's quite a bit older than William and their relationship reminded me of Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin's in The Graduate for some reason.) William is obviously torn between these two women. The results are brutal and tragic.
Steele intersperses among the brief narrative scenes long segments of very stylized movement and dance. Many of these require the performers to move in a constricting, uncomfortable manner and/or to hold difficult poses for (relatively) long periods of time. Only one segment is lively and entertaining, and it features the entire company of 10 actors, including the astonishing Dolezel, whose fierce Dog never breaks animal/character for a second.
It was never clear to me, though, why there was a Dog (or a Pregnant Woman, or a Patient seemingly in search of an IV stand). The movement sections are violent and harsh and certainly inform and augment the mood, but ultimately they felt like interruptions to a story I wanted more of.