nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
August 22, 2009
e-Station is a Chinese avant-garde movement piece created by rising star young director WANG Chong, which originally premiered at the 2008 Beijing Fringe Festival. Dedicated to the late Japanese writer and director Ohta Shogo, it explores the slow motion and stillness which was a hallmark of his work. At the top of the show, the stage is littered with computer keyboards, mice, video game controllers, and a microwave, which the cast interacts with over the course of the piece. Set to a soundtrack of digital and mechanical noise, the three performers move extremely slowly and play with cell phones, digital cameras, and the various control devices (and their cables) scattered across the stage. There are no spoken words in the piece apart from a brief phone conversation (in Chinese, of course) at the very beginning.
As an exploration of how human bodies interact with electronic devices in an age of constant acceleration and fragmentation, I was quite enamored with the choice to use extreme slowness. Over the course of the piece there are quite a few striking images, particularly with the use of shadows toward the end of the piece when projection is introduced into the vocabulary. Ultimately, however, it did not feel like there was enough interesting material to fill the time. Much of the movement, in its slowness, is reminiscent of Butoh, but lacks physical virtuosity. Such extremities of tempo put movement under a powerful microscope, and often can elevate the most prosaic gestures into new heights of strange beauty. While there are certainly moments of this, for most of the show the performers fall short of that transcendence, and are just moving frustratingly slowly. That type of movement demands incredible precision on the part of both the director and the performers, but this piece felt marred by a certain degree of sloppiness. That's not to say that I don't thoroughly appreciate the immensely difficult task of the performers—their focus is admirably absolute. Rather, it was a sloppiness of choices made. I cannot help but feel that a far richer physical vocabulary could have been found in their play with the various electronic devices than the tangling and pulling of cables that filled up most of the hour.
Non-narrative work, without the comforting structure of conventional story, needs a dramaturgical framework that is just as—if not more—rigorous to replace it. Sadly e-Station never quite achieves this, and thus remains lost in the murk.