nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
July 20, 2007
It's good to take your ideas to the far-out and uncomfortable places. Sometimes you have to go insane to really understand things—to let go whatever you have to let go of. Emily Conbere lets go in this show. And when she lets go, she goes to the weirdest places—and I went right along with her.
The night begins with Conbere performing her solo piece, Broken Dogs Legs, barefoot in a little white spaghetti-strap dress on a set populated by only by a chair, a bag of dog food, and a vanity table. Her character, named simply "She," is as quirky as can be. She is suffering from having a family. Her mother seems to be shallow and flighty. Her father is disconnected. And her brother is dead. Recent suicide. She meets a Black Lab in a dog park who becomes her therapist. She pays him in dog food and dime bags of weed. She is indeed, as she says, "damaged greats," but it takes intimate letters to Citibank and a man with a wheelie-cart instead of legs for her to figure it out.
Conbere is instantly distinctive and enchanting. Her writing goes to the oddest places. She doesn't push a joke, she pokes at it slowly without thinking about it. She plays her character as if she were playing her in her living room. She is so naturally funny. Conbere and her director, Rachael Rayment, create a character who impersonates within her own character. Her mother and father really seem like they're related to her. She doesn't attempt to transform. Her characters are a part of her. Conbere balances this piece brilliantly with laughs and stirring thoughts. It's a really great ride.
The next piece, Jamal Lullabies, is not so much a play as it is a serenade to a man from the women who loved him. Jamal is dead and we are all gathered here to hear the Jamal Girls sing their praises to him. The girls, Bekah Coulter, Larissa Lury, Allison Jill Posner, and Nicole Stefonek, raise their beautiful voices and look knowingly at each other with sincere sorrow until they've all taken their turn with a song. I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this piece. It held my attention but mostly because I kept expecting it to go another direction. This piece appealed to me as a point of interest because it was not at all like the previous segment and not at all what I expected. I think that's what's so remarkable about Conbere's work.
Check out this new summer festival (Undergroundzero) at Collective: Unconscious before it goes away. If this show is indicative of the rest of the fest, I think you'll have a good time.
Both Talgarow and Chadsey are exploring day-to-day life in Go—the routines we face in the workplace, our love lives, even in public transportation. And at its best, Go confronts head on the things we all think but never say. (A sequence in which the two women place orange stickers all over their bodies in response to things they don't like about themselves is particularly apt.) But other sections of the play merely serve to point out that the women, despite their excellent stage chops, have nothing new to say. The lesson that men like women until those women say "I love you" has been taught time after time after time. People like to procrastinate instead of working? Yep, been there, done that. And a framing device with the women being asked (unheard) questions from an unseen presence fails to pull the evening together. It's an unfortunate letdown.
Still, these are two dynamic and hilarious actors, and their evident enthusiasm is infectious. Go is a pair of solid performances in search of a more convincing narrative.
Sick, as presented in Collective Unconscious' Undergroundzero Festival, is a non-linear physical theatre piece that explores, on the one hand, the nature of relationships on the brink of self-destructing, and on the other, the horrors of war. It is at times funny, at times moving, and, at times, comically heavy handed. But, given the laboratory setting of the Undergroundzero festival, it is definitely worth taking a look.
Sick is divided into four parts. The first shows two couples on the brink of self-destruction, the second shows shell-shocked soldiers under fire on a battlefield, the third shows the same soldiers in stark contrast with their white-washed, pencil-pushing military administration counterparts, and the fourth goes back and focuses on one of the couples from the beginning.
The ensemble is strong—they are all polished performers, with tremendous physical control—but the standouts are, without a doubt, the three actors who played the shell-shocked soldiers. [Editor's Note: Individual performers were not identified in the program.] Whereas the other performers seem to flaunt their physical training in a way that is uncharacteristic of whom they are portraying, the three soldiers do an excellent job of making their physicality an organic part of their character.
In spite of strong performances from the ensemble, however, the unquestionable star of the show is composer Anthony Gatto's world-creating sound design and composition. When I say "world-creating," I mean just that—the music and sound do a tremendous amount to evoke the nature of each scene, to highlight the physical action onstage and heighten it. The music is haunting—at times mechanical, at times tender, but always engaging.
Overall, however, the experience of seeing Sick is summed up best by a single moment in the piece, towards the very end.
In it, two young lovers are seated on chairs, the woman behind the man. The man lifts up the woman's legs, and starts to "drive" her, as though she is a car. The woman laughs as the man becomes sillier and more vehement in his "driving." He "drives" until finally he "crashes" the "car," and they both lie on top of each other. Up to this point, the moment has been tender and fun, with two obviously experienced physical performers taking advantage of their training to bring the audience something remarkably simple yet tender and beautiful. The moment is broken, however, by the text that follows. The man asks the woman "Are you alive?" The woman laughs, "Yes, are you?" The man laughs, "Yes." The woman then becomes suddenly serious—a seriousness that goes beyond the moment of these two characters and almost screams "performance art"—and says "How do you know you are alive?"
This what the experience of seeing Sick is like: engaging physical moments of remarkable control, at times a sublime simplicity, at times dazzling moments of controlled chaos. All of which, however, are generally broken by heavy handed moralizing, and actors who handle these moments—moments grounded in text more so than physicality—without the precision needed to keep them from becoming comically overdone.
I left Sick feeling vaguely unsatisfied. There were several moments of brilliance and an awe-inspiring sound design, but these were just parts of the whole. I left Sick wanting something more. But, given the laboratory nature of this festival, this may be exactly as it was meant to be—to leave the audience curious as to how this piece will develop and where it will go next.