In a time when a man like Mike Huckabee can win the Iowa primary (with Chuck Norris in tow—has the world gone insane?), the fact that performance continues to investigate the role of religion and spirituality with a critical and aesthetic eye is, well, comforting, I suppose.
Two works-in-progress at HERE’s Culturemart are therefore of note. First is Yoav Gal’s “videOpera” Mosheh, a simple and lovely take on the story of Moses, presented a piece of the whole, one that, significantly, does not even feature the title character prominently (Dax Valdes sits stoically in the background before a lit [burning?] bush). The 40-minute segment gives a great tribute to the matriarchy so vital to Jewish tradition and lore, an idea often lost in the pop culture of Charlton Heston and “Let My People Go.” Judith Barnes, Hai-Ting Chinn, and Heather Green form the powerful trifecta of Moses’ mother, sister, and the Pharoh’s daughter, respectively.
Add visually striking costumes (Gal’s and Green’s designs; think Julie Taymor meets the Bauhaus) and some layered video effects and Mosheh shows much promise. With the ensembles’ bedsheet-white dresses and matching, multi-faceted screens, video projections are projected upon the cast, and the women become the Nile, the forest grove, even carry the baby Moses (represented by a narrow spotlight). The melding of body, space, music, and imagination is territory that needs to be explored in any (multi)discipline.
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The South Wing’s The Gospel According to Jack Vitrolo, although not nearly as direct as Mosheh, implicitly uses the trials of the saints as allegory for contemporary medicine. The influence of Tadashi Suzuki upon director Kameron Steele is clear: the theme of the inescapable institution and the absurdity of the characters’ quest, strict, precise movement, and interdisciplinary form is all there.
The opening image is terrifying: a man and woman, dressed in pajamas stand facing upstage. Slowly, the woman (Sophie Nimmannit) sinks to the floor. When she reaches the ground, she begins to violently convulse, so much so that it hurts to watch as she slams her head and legs against the black floor. She is promptly taken anyway by an ambulance, beginning the man’s (the hound-faced Andy Shulman) Kafka-esque journey through a hospital to find his kidnapped wife. And although Shulman and the ensemble give their all, the piece as a whole proves itself disappointingly one-dimensional. While the saints of the gospels were rich, troubled characters, The South Wing pits an inherently naïve, good-intentioned man against the evil monolith that is Medicine. Cheap shots like money-grubbing physicians, ludicrous prescription drug ads, and bumbling, useless lackeys greatly diminish the vast potential of what could constitute invaluable performances and present-day miracles.