Anyone who knows the Tweedster can tell you that he is constantly fussing about the tendency to turn to the Ancient Greeks for guidance in times of war, not so much because it's a bad idea, but it takes a lot of careful crafting to aptly corollate Creon, say, with George W. Bush, or libation bearers with the recent widows in Iraq that CNN loves to show every night.
Last night I sawThe Best's first performance of their "<OEDI Cycle>" at theOhio Theatre, OEDI @:US (read it over a couple of times, you'll get it), a multimedia, online, pop-music infused circus. In their words: "The Best utilizes racous rock music, dynamic dancing and diverse digital techniques to riff on The Homeland's obsessive pop-cultural globilazation and aggressive global militarization."
Needless to say, I was intrigued. Could OEDI be my theatrical savior? The basic premise: the members of the defunct band The Best have come together on some sort post-apocalyptic American Idol to decide where their figurehead OEDI ("Organically Enabled Digital Interface," now confined to an orb of digital information) will finally come to rest (a server). The setting in the not toodistant past/not toodistant future certainly makes one chuckle at the notion of world politics and power will be decided by votes for singers, and the potential critique of the multimedia frenzy that is politics as well as America's obsession with reality TV at the cost of political awareness. When considered for a minute, it's not all that far-fetched.
But instead of taking a strangle hold on these topics, The Best devolves into petty squabbles and ego-tripped divadom, which, although accurate for Monday night primetime on Fox, really doesn't go anywhere in the performance at the Ohio. A cast of incredibly talented performers, quirky and fun characters, and media-savvy designers and operators can't really draw the audience to the socio-political message they are apparently aiming for. By the time the theatre is threatened with goverment-sanctioned annihilation, it's difficult to go along with it, and OEDI's importance and integrity are lost in the details.
I applaud Eamonn Farrell and company for such an ambitious and entertaining evening, and it is certainly worthwhile to see the company play with all their toys, but instead of reflection upon the larger meanings, I only felt the artificiality that already floods American Idol, CNN, and MTV.
I had to rub my eyes yesterday when I am across the following headline in the Washington Post: "Is He to Be Guilty, Or Not to Be Guilty?" Apparently, the Kennedy Center staged a sold-out mock-trial for the sweet prince.
After two hours of mock-trial arguments at the Kennedy Center --
presided over by no less a jurist than Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.
Kennedy -- a jury of Washingtonians deliberated over whether Hamlet was
in his right mind when he stabbed Polonius to death. In elegant tribute
to Shakespeare's enigmatic masterpiece, the jurors deadlocked, 6 to 6.
A trial for a fictitious prince from medieval Denmark? Did Liz LeCompte direct this?
Also of note: this is the first time a Supreme Court Justice has done anything for the arts in well over a decade.
“Disjoint and out of frame” is how Claudius describes the goings-on in Elsinore early in Hamlet. Originally meant as a citation of eeriness and discomfort, the line takes on new meaning in the Wooster Group’s attempt at Shakespeare’s opus. Reenacting the piece alongside the 1964 film featuring Richard Burton on Broadway, the Wooster Group utilizes their signature disjointedness and, in juxtaposition with the film, they are, quite literally, “out of frame.” This speaks to the typical brilliance of the group’s aesthetic, and this piece brings up some fascinating questions for the trajectory of the Wooster Group as well as the state of contemporary experimental theatre at large.
In their most recent incarnation of Poor Theatre (2004), the program notes explicitly discussed the group’s compulsion for the simulacrum—the copy, the reproduction. The concept, most (in)famously theorized by Jean Baudrillard, is an incredibly beautiful and devastating post-structural analysis of late capitalism and reproduction, an era in which the copy has replaced the original, and, more importantly, the original can never be resuscitated. I won’t get the blog bogged down with linguistic theory and semiology, but meaning has been lost in an infinite web of representation. This was quite intriguing in Poor Theatre, in which the group attempted to imitate Jerzy Grotowski’s Akropolis, a William Forsythe lecture, and a Max Ernst documentary. The group performed whilst watching the video on monitors set all around the performance space.
Significantly, however, they were constantly inserting themselves (beyond the impossible escape from their own consciousnesses), their story in their visit to Grotowski’s lab in Wroclaw, Poland, or Liz LeCompte’s voiceover concerning her affinity with Ernst, or the very fact that the images of the sound and lighting board operators were projected for almost the entire performance. Here, the group was brilliantly working with the impossibility of the origin, exposing the artifice of their own (indeed, all) performance.
This is not the case with Hamlet, however. For the majority of the three hours, the cast is, and I write this without a hint of irony, acting. In all fairness, they are brilliant actors, probably the best working in New York today, but it was the lack of their mark in the performance that made the piece a tad boring at times. The Wooster Group should be anything but boring, even in moments of quiet and immobility.
It is the hiccups in their performances that make them incredible, epitomized when Scott Shepard breaks character to tell the video operator to fast forward through part of the “players scene,” with an exchange between Gertrude and Ophelia (both are played by Kate Valk, making the scene impossible, or at least silly); or when a piece of the film is “Unrendered” and the videographer is forced to insert other filmic interpretations of Hamlet (Kenneth Branaugh, Ethan Hawke—thankfully no Gibson). But these moments are way too few and far between. Without the transparency of their methods and aesthetic, the Wooster Group doesn’t interrogate their subjects with the same rigor, not to mention sense of humor (very important when dealing with the campiness of Burton’s film—in Theatrofilm!).
As a result, the subtlest elements are allowed to shine, meaning Geoff Abbas, Dan Dobson, Joby Emmons, and Matt Tierney’s incredible and intricate sound design, that astounds me every time, and the amazing ghosting of Burton’s film rendered by Reid Farrington, which lends the piece a macabre feel and blends the live and mediated casts together nicely, particularly when Shepard’s shadow is cast over the film screen, which overlaps the shadow of the ghost of Hamlet.
With the Wooster Group, there are only shades of wonderful, though, and the performance is captivating overall. Perhaps it’s the bias of my expectations of the Wooster Group, or even that in conjunction with their attempt at a play widely considered the greatest in dramatic literature, but this one left me feeling out of joint.