Jet of Blood or the Ball of Glass
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
February 27, 2009
Antonin Artaud wanted to put an end to the spoken word in theater. He wanted to transform the language of theater into gesture and intention. His theater would assault the senses and push the audience's experience to the edge. No. 11 Productions in their rendering of Artaud's 1924 play Jet of Blood comes close to achieving these goals.
Jet of Blood utilizes some archetypal characters such as the lovers, the warrior, the matriarch, and the temptress in order to expose the reality behind the myth or to crush innocence with fear and violence. These characters are represented by No. 11 with very simple costume pieces (Julie Congress) such as a silver yarn knitted to resemble chain maille on the warrior and two large milk jugs signifying the matriarch's teats. There is no set except for maybe a ladder and there is no conventional plot to speak of. The script is only a few pages long but the show lasts a little over an hour. The rest of that time is filled with very innovative movement and music.
Choreographer Simon Gunner does a fantastic job helping to create implications behind every movement. From the simplest hand gesture to complex chaotic outbursts, not a single movement is without intention and meaning. I enjoyed Gunner's little bits of order in the chaotic scenes in which a single movement would be repeated by two characters in the middle of the madness. Composer/musicians Nat Osborn and Dustin Carlson assault our ears with beautifully loud noise rock that often turns into gentler rhythms that enhance the action on stage tenfold. This show relies heavily on the music to transport the audience into their world and it does not disappoint. The sound is incredible. The mix is bizarre and ranges from frenzied clattering to a Cole Porter patter song.
Artaud was fond of blasphemy. At one point in the show the temptress bites the hand of God which is represented by a giant puppet hand. Jen Neads also designs a striking priest puppet character out of paper and cloth that is operated very well by the talented cast. Zachary Fithian, Haley Greenstein, Kate Villanova, Julie Congress, and Mitchell Conway form a strong ensemble that gels together perfectly. They are all so dedicated to every single movement, sound, and image. It is always refreshing to see actors totally committed to roles.
Director Ryan Emmons deserves a round of applause for putting his vision of a cruel world into such clear images. He moves the pace at super high speed in one moment only to slow it to a crawl in the next. He shows us creation and destruction, violence and innocence, as he exposes our deepest fears and impulses. Emmons uses the word "oh" in shifting tones of voice to convey meaning, gestures akin to Laban Movements that pinpoint objectives, and strict control of focus to lead us through a dazzling journey.
Jet of Blood is fringe theater at its artistic best because it uses some of the conventions of theater that have been left behind in much of straight theater. In this case, the assault on your senses will come as an invigorating reminder that there are very innovative companies out there willing to take risks.