nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
June 17, 2009
If you are reading this and you have a working brain, then you are well aware what a strange inner world that brain can create given enough years on our planet. Over decades of life, it collects enormous amounts of information and experience, all of which are constantly being rewound and replayed. Traveling with us are all the silent moments of doubt and fear, the family tragedies, the relationships, both broken and mended, constantly helping to direct the daily theatre that is one's life. This exploration via the physical performance of past experience is the world created by Polina Klimovitskaya and Terra Incognita for the current production of Pebble-and-Cart Cycle. Like our brains, the play's world is one that is at times silent and eerily clear, and at other times, cacophonous and puzzling. This movement, from the quiet and direct to the rushing onslaught of images and symbols, in part defines this play, as well as serves as Pebble-and-Cart's strength, and weakness.
The "Cycle" is a total of six scenes, three of which are offered in this particular production. The scenes are broken up by quick set changes, though don't expect the world of the play to stop. Like our own psychological world, this play is always moving, with the boundaries that define play versus real life purposefully muddied.
The first scene, "Moocha: I have a fly on my plate," begins with a video of a lone diner, half-heartedly involved in following the commands of her physical appetite. Slowly, she is joined by a lone fly, who moves from becoming a curiosity, to a pest, to a distraction, to a true obsession. Supporting this movement are sharp, jarring cuts in the video. Watching these almost slasher-flick edits, we wonder whether this woman, who is lost and without control over self, will be able to exert the ultimate control over another. Questions of ultimate power and control are themes that continue, as the action moves off the screen and onto the stage. In the most compelling moment of the play, the woman from the film now stalks the fly, this time right before our eyes. The pest, no longer a threat to her food, has become more: a threat to her mental state. Further layers to the scene are provided by the multiple gods present (including a man in white, upstairs), who each use the moment to exert their own personal directives over the scene. In "Moocha," Klimovitskaya, with movement and the full commitment of her actors, creates a terrifying exploration, forcing a willing audience to confront the complex nature of power, control, and violence.
I wish, however, that the ideas behind the remaining two scenes ("Horse" and "Goat," for short) would have been as clearly expressed as they are in this first one. The final two pieces, both of which rely on movement, but also on verbal as well as filmed communication, are more multi-directional than "Moocha." While this will eventually serve as an asset once the play is more developed (the director referred to this night as a "rehearsal"), for now, it seems to be a detriment. For in the midst of two more videos, a puppet show, stories of mythology, and tales from the director's own childhood, it became difficult to understand exactly what we were supposed to be focusing on. This inability to focus was amplified by the two-hour, intermission-free running time, which is taxing when faced with this rush of thoughtful and provoking imagery. While I understand that the psychological world is often defined by a feeling of being lost and without anchor, I'm not convinced that this was the play's ultimate intention.
But the brain is never simple. Carrying all the life experience with us that we do, rarely is anything as clear as we might wish it would be. Part of Theatre Incognito's purpose is to "navigate further...into the most obscure depths of human instinct," and I would argue that the second and third scenes are clearly attempting to do just that. But for an audience, especially one not familiar with symbolist theatre, to benefit from this experience, it seems to me that a good edit is needed. Either way, Klimovitskaya, with her committed actors and curiosity-shop like set by Jessica Scott, has created a world that is unique, challenging, and in the final video, full of hope. And as this play develops, clarifying its many symbols, images, and stories, it will be a world worth visiting again.