Friday, March 18, 2005

Weather Talking "Discarded Landscape" @ PAC/edge

I have a good friend in Weather Talking so I attended opening night and am very supportive of the project. I encourage people to go see the show. Here is a bit of a review...

Last year's commission winner, Brian Torrey Scott, has returned to the PAC/edge festival this year as director of a collaborative theater project called Weather Talking. Brian also returns with several of his regular collaborators with Jeff Harms, Tiffany Liveris and Donovan Shermas as performers, Sam Wagster providing live guitar accompaniment and Nicholas Monsour in a design roll. Of course, it is misleading to box these folks too tightly into roles in this kind of product of collaborative process, but it is one of Brian's obvious knacks that he is able to attract talented people to his projects.

Weather Talking's first work is a piece of Devised Theater that tracks emotional denials of a father, son and daughter who have lost their wife/mother as they make a retreat for the woods.

Brian offers a couple clues early on that help carry the first part of the performance. He indicated in program that the play is in a five-part structure that is located for the most part in a hermitage. He also introduced the play and himself as director to open the show.

Brian's introduction to the play informs us that he will be playing the role of the mother and proceeds to sit in a chair just off stage. Occasionally, he would get up and exert his will on a scene by breaking up a fight or by turning to the audience and reading some section of text. I am sympathetic to this desire to actively direct a piece like this one (especially when to content is somewhat improvised), and I also can intellectually understand how the Mother's presence/memory might occasionally exert itself on the family, but Brian's nervousness, jittery stance and the choice to read in this pseudo-haughty-acting-like-you're-acting- voice seemed to spoil the opportunities created by having someone in his position in the performance.

Like Brian's last PAC presentation, Discarded Landscape opens with an extended section of the actors scurrying about in a Goat Island Summer School manner with overlapping dialogue and a good deal of fussing with chairs. Successfully disconcerting but murky. The actors would find moments of business around the stage but didn't hold up any kind of deeper motivation or through-line so the activity seemed to indulge a fetishism of process more than anything for me.

Fortunately, Brian seems to be aware of his tendency to be obscure and the performance got sharper and sharper as it went.

I dug the performances of the principle actors generally. Jeff Harms is charming and funny in his storytelling bits. Tiffany improved throughout the play and succeeded in carrying an emotional transformation at the end of the play into her mother. Donovan is a bit of a shooting star whose biggest flaw in this show was that sometimes his personality would overwhelm the stage.

There are great lighting choices throughout the performance. Upstage curtains are illuminated and combined with overhead lighting that leaves the cast often masked in Noir-ish shadows furthering the retreat of the family.

My memory of the show now several days past is that the play spends a great deal of time disorienting us and providing us with characters who are often untrustworthy because of their denials or tendency to exaggerate the truth for the sake of a fun story. The play asks us what will stop this runaway denial and proposes the point in an abrupt, dramatic ending.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review is too nice. As the name would suggest, 'Discarded Landscapes' was truly terrible. It took every ounce of energy I had not to laugh or leave. Every second of it was like "we are actors, we are artists, look at us, think about us," without presenting anything original or interesting to look at or think about. It was like a joke about pretentious performance art. I almost felt bad for the people on stage, and I felt really bad for everyone in audeince that was trying so hard to appreciate them. Chicago audiences are the best. I agree with what this reviewer said about the father character.

March 24, 2005 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have learned about this at school today!

March 28, 2005 5:01 PM  

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