Stopped Bridge of Dreams
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 22, 2012
Stopped Bridge of Dreams, the new multimedia performance written, designed and directed by John Jesurun at La MaMa, is a hallucinogenic, sense-assaulting, dreamlike hour and a quarter in the theater. The Ellen Stewart Theatre has been arranged with tennis-court-style seating, with audience against two opposite walls and the actors and action in the center between them. The set is a long table with two different cloths covering each half (they seem to be complements of one another); bisecting the table is a wall or screen. Above the table are two screens on which are projected images—sometimes live video feeds, sometimes pre-recorded monologues, and most of the time ambient background footage of the airplane we're in flying through a night sky. At the sides of the playing space are a few items of furniture and costume pieces; a live camera operator and his equipment is visible at one end of the space. The cameraman and the actors shift location and occasionally change costume in full view of the audience; it should be a distraction but like all of the rest of the constantly shifting environment of this play (for the screens and the table are moved numerous times during the show by the actors) it is in tune with one of the main ideas of Jesurun's work, which is to keep us constantly caught up in a mutating perspective. Nothing is absolute or certain in this world.
You may have noticed that I said we are on an airplane; indeed, Stopped Bridge of Dreams takes place on a fantastical aircraft that houses a floating/flying brothel where the very rich can travel from one place to another while indulging in sensory pleasures along the way. It's run by a woman and her son, both of whom are/were occasional employees of the brothel as well. We meet a couple of other employees during the play, a lovely young woman named Claire and a strapping man named Eisenhower. This central plot premise comes from the work of seminal Japanese novelist Saikaku Ihara.
Where and when the plane lands and then takes off again is really vague, though: is this all just a giant floating metaphor? Are the characters dead? Are the characters—as my favorite passage in the piece, a magnificently tantalizing conversation, suggests—fictional?
Whatever the "truth" may be, Stopped Bridge of Dreams is loaded with strange, startling, non-sequitur happenings. Eisenhower recites The White Album. The son complains that he has to sing naked with a rock band that covers awful songs. Claire has an unexpected encounter with one of the plane's passengers. (Different guest actors appear at each performance, adding to the mystery and general fogginess.)
The piece is always arresting and never boring and not the kind of thing that will appeal to lovers of linear narrative or easy takeaways. The fine young actor Preston Martin anchors the piece splendidly as the son; Ridiculous Theatre veteran Black-Eyed Susan plays his mother (she performs entirely in a raspy whisper, which makes it sometimes difficult to decipher her dialogue even though she's miked; the sound by Kumi Ishizawa is unfortunately the weak link in an otherwise impeccably designed production). Claire Buckingham and Ikechukwu Ufomadu portray Claire and Eisenhower, respectively.