Archive for the ‘theater’ tag

Reflections on “Arlington”

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Imagine a sterile white waiting room with a row of three plastic blue chairs to the far left and a tall narrow window to the far right. At the back, to the right is a wide fish-less aquarium, to the right of the aquarium on the wall a paper cup dispenser and nearly at the right corner the only door to enter or leave the waiting room. It is a narrow and tall door. On the drop ceiling are four surveillance cameras and mounted on to the wall behind the plastic chairs a microphone on a gooseneck. On the other side of that left wall, is a control room with a desk and many small monitors all about the room.

In Enda Walsh’s “Arlington” the waiting room is at once an isolation room and an observation room but more importantly a psychological prison. I went to the play (currently at St. Ann’s Warehouse) because I was interested in seeing how the piece melded multimedia with the actors on the stage as I had read it was quite successful; I was not disappointed.

The play that combines theater, dance, video, music and lighting effects to create a work of speculative fiction that delves in to existential reality based in contemporary, first-world society. Initially the play brought to mind Calderón de la Barca’s “La vida es sueño” (Life Is a Dream) (1635) – “Man dreams what he is until he awakens…” I read the play over 20 years ago and what I recall is that a prince, Segismundo is imprisoned in a windowless tower since his childhood. He is given a tutor to have a formal education. When he dreams he recalls his life before imprisonment – playing feely as a child. He confuses his dreams with his reality – to him his dreams that recall freedom are his reality and the time spent in the tower alone or with his tutor is sleep time. The play popularly considered a masterpiece of the Golden Age of Spanish Theater brings to the forefront questions of free will versus fate and whether life is a dream or a reality. Similarly, Isla, the main character in “Arlington” is imprisoned and has one individual to communicate with – the 32 year old technician that sits on the other side of the wall and observes her. As with Segismundo, it is unclear how long Isla has been in this waiting room and like Segismundo the waiting room is at the top of a tower.

At one point there are allusions to her having supernatural powers as she is the one constructing the towers that rise outside, beyond the window. As the piece progressed, it brought to mind Netflix’s “The OA” – an 8 episode series that also presents imprisonment, torture, the question of reality versus psychological construction. And as the combination of video projection and light effects were woven into the play, I couldn’t help but also think about Netflix’s “Black Mirror”.

There is a middle section in the play, following the freedom of Isla, when a new woman is inserted into the waiting room. This section is gripping due to her movement. The character has no words, but her dance choreographed by Oona Doherty speaks clearly of anger and resistance.

The final character to be inserted in to the waiting room is the 32-year old technician who apparently freed Isla from the room. As with Isla, he recalls elements of his childhood that appear to have left psychological scars.

There is one sequence of the play in which immense faces are projected onto the far wall, one after the next – a portrait of the audience and the accompanying narration is a philosophical reflection on the society that we have constructed. I need to find the entire play, in particular this narration.

I attended “Arlington” with my friend Erica and she shared her thoughts with me:

I walked into Saint Ann’s warehouse blind. I had no idea what kind of performance Ricardo had invited me to, but I was excited and my feeling was that it would be a simple yet creative production. Just moments after finding our seats, perfectly situated a few rows up towards the middle, the dimly illuminated theatre went black. The curtains opened up to the sides and the stage lights lit up revealing a very basic set depicting a waiting room. Nothing out of the ordinary. All the items were typical of what you would expect to find – a coat rack, three plastic chairs, a waiting ticket number dispenser, a fake plant and an aquarium. However, everyone’s attention was on her- a plainly dressed young woman who was waiting for her turn in what seemed to be a doctor’s office. Something felt odd though. She was staring out of the one window in the room. She seemed confused or lost in a thought. It didn’t take long to grasp that this was not your standard waiting room scenario. For one, there was a mike on the wall like the one used by the fast food drive thru operator. And second, there were four cameras in each corner of the room monitoring the girl. Third, and the weirdest, there was a nervous nerdy guy in a small room next door full of monitors watching and talking to her as if he were her watch guard.

She was obviously not mentally stable and in need of attention. He was definitely a geek who was lonely. Both establish an awkward relationship without ever seeing one another. There are many extensive monologues. It was difficult to ascertain whether the world she was describing is the real environment in which the story is set, or if she is nuts and has concocted a world where everyone is living in waiting rooms like hers and jumping out of windows when they can’t stand it any longer. Am I like her? If so, to what degree? I couldn’t help but think about my own sanity. Within 30 minutes or so, she has stolen his heart and he finally opens the door to let her out of the waiting room. She presumably is freed.

The next scene was the most difficult to sit through. I was literally so uncomfortable that at one point I had to look over at Ricardo and establish eye contact with him in order to feel that this was just a performance and I was not part of that world. Once he looked back at me, this was enough to confirm that we still belong to our crazy world that we’ve normalized and not the unfamiliar, insane world on the stage. The woman before our eyes was clearly in pain. For what seemed like forever, she was banging her chest, slapping her thighs, hitting the floor, throwing her shoes, running and twirling about the waiting room in such a chaos. There was a series of images and music throughout that at times made me feel disoriented. This woman didn’t say a word and she didn’t need to. The choreography was great. The emotions it stirred inside of me, disturbing. I felt she was going to be one of the falling leaves the previous girl had described in one of her monologues. At the end, sure enough, this leaf fell- right out of the window.

The last scene begins with the pathetic watch guard nerdy guy being thrown into the waiting room. He was bloody, and it’s unclear what the hell he’s done. From above, like an omnipresent god, a woman invoked his childhood traumas, and interrogated him not letting him sleep until he confessed what he saw. Apparently when he opened the door to let the woman out, he followed her into a forest where either he killed her or found her dead. How is this known? By a huge projection of her walking in a forest that was shown behind the wall of the waiting room. By the end of his psychological torture, the woman appears to him and reassures him that once “this is over” they will be reunited. They embrace briefly, he falls asleep, and she disappears.

Written by ricardo

May 18th, 2017 at 2:06 pm

“Broken Bone Bathtub” Review

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Broken Bone Bathtub by Siobhan O'Loughlin

Broken Bone Bathtub by Siobhan OLoughlin

This past Saturday night a bit before 9pm, I stepped down into a basement apartment in Long Island City, Queens, just a couple blocks from MoMA PS 9. A few weeks ago, I read glowing reviews about Siobhan O’Loughlin’s immersive theater piece Broken Bone Bathtub that occurs in private bathrooms, so I decided to check it out. Once through a small door that I had to duck under, a coat rack outside the apartment entrance received the audience. I went with a friend and we entered behind a young couple who were very excited about the experience. We stepped in to the living room of the apartment and were greeted by a cheery hostess who invited us to chocolate fondue and nuts and a few other appetizers. Red wine was also available, but required a small donation. The hostess, told us about herself, the apartment – voluntarily lent by immersive theater fans and the actress as we waited for the Siobhan to gather herself; this was the second performance of the evening.

A few minutes later, another young woman nodded to the hostess indicating that the actress was ready for us. The hostess asked for two volunteers who would be comfortable speaking and contributing to the piece. Two young women raised their hands and were taken to the bathroom for introductions and instructions. A few minutes later, the remaining four of us, were invited to enter the small bathroom; the audience was a total of six.

Siobhan sat naked in a cast iron bathtub, her breasts concealed by soap bubbles. The two volunteers sat adjacent to the bathtub and the rest of us took seats on a toilet, stool, small chair and small plastic step stool. The actress thanked us for coming asked if we were all comfortable and then began her narrative. Her left arm was in a cast, decorated with signatures and drawings. She told us about the pain and the time necessary to recover from a broken bone and the difficulties of day to day life with her left arm in a cast. She began to detail how the accident happened, riding her bike to an activist meeting along the west side of Prospect Park, headed to Grand Army Plaza. She asked if we were familiar with the area, everybody appeared to be and as I ride it regularly, she asked me to describe it. Following my description of the area, she told us that it was a rainy night and there was a husband and wife riding south as she rode north. It was dark and wet and perhaps the couple had been riding in tandem. She collided with the woman. The husband immediately attended to her wife as Siobhan found herself alone and in a great deal of pain…

Through the performance, topics such as who do we call at a moment of emergency, loneliness, whether or not we cry, were discussed by both the actress and the audience. She seamlessly moved through the responses from audience members back to her narrative. At one point she sang a song as one of the volunteers either scrubbed her back or conditioned her hair. She joked that throughout this period of healing, she borrowed the bathrooms of friends in order to not be alone. And throughout the performance she made sure to include each audience member.

The piece was smart and thought provoking. Unfortunately, the bathroom door was left ajar and at the beginning, the residents of the apartment were taking cell phone photos of us in their bathroom. Later, at times it was distracting to look out to the living room and see people on their devices. However, in general, the manner that Siobhan was able to weave the audiences’s discussion in to her performance was impressive. The one weak element in the piece was unfortunately the conclusion.

Siobhan entered a seemingly heartfelt conclusion, she allowed herself to cry as she discussed moving on from the healing period. The crying and the final monologue felt contrived in comparison to the rest of the performance, because unlike the preceding narrative, it did not engage dialogue, but was instead prescriptive. The uniqueness presented by the back and forth between the actress and each audience was broken and the piece reverted to conventional theater – a one way presentation. It would have been transformative, if each conclusion appeared to vary given the audience interaction. Siobhan could still maintain the underlying message, but it would be great if she was able to draw from what was shared by a given audience to inform the concluding monologue rather than loose the sense of immersion.