Thursday, May 31, 2012

90 degrees of separation

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 10:46 AM

A colleague of mine from the Charlotte Observer, down here in Charleston to cover the opening weekend of Spoleto Festival USA, warned me that the cast of Hay Fever would be hard to hear at first but they got louder as the Noël Coward comedy moved along. He must have caught the Gate Theatre production on a good night at Dock Street Theatre. Sonic dropouts plagued all three acts at the Saturday matinee Sue and I attended, blurring a key plot point pertaining to retired theatre diva Judith Bliss's return to the stage and turning the Act 2 game of charades — as the Blisses, parents and children, entertain four would-be lovers — into a virtual pantomime.

The situation was even worse at Memminger Auditorium earlier in the afternoon when 1927 presented The Animals and Children Took to the Streets. I overheard a disgruntled theatergoer as we emerged onto the street saying, "I couldn't hear it, and I couldn't understand it." That's an overly harsh reaction to Suzanne Andrade's multimedia play about a population of city children turned into zombies through the fairytale allure of candy.

But there was substance to his complaints. Actresses in the show, including Andrade, were often under-miked. Even the male narrator, offstage or prerecorded, frequently came through the loudspeakers as an indecipherable mumble. We thought that was all that could go wrong until the cunning Paul Barritt animation projections framing the actors suddenly went blank during the last five minutes. Hope that all gets fixed before the next flurry of 1927 performances that begin on Thursday. Animals and Children runs through June 3 while Hay Fever runs the length of Spoleto through June 10.

Circle of Eleven's Leo
  • Circle of Eleven's Leo

Meanwhile, Circle of Eleven's Leo ruled at Emmett Robinson Theatre (though its run brief run sadly finished on Sunday). Conceived and performed by Tobias Wegner, the ongoing tableau of Leo is side-by-side images of the same action: Leo imprisoned in a three-walled room. The difference between the two images is that the virtual video image is turned clockwise 90º. So when we first see the live Leo lying down on our right, he appears to be leaning against a wall on the video projection to our left — until live Leo moves away from the right-hand wall and video Leo appears to be levitating in mid-air.

For a minute or two, the difference between the two perspectives was so startling that I had to make sure they were both Wegner. Circle of Eleven director Danièl Briere gets a lot of credit for the projected Leo maintaining such a natural look while the acrobatic Wegner is on our right, standing on one hand or on his head and generally putting himself through impossible contortions to preserve the realistic and surreal illusions.

Wegner entertained us for a while with a few scant props, including a hat, a tie, and a suitcase, which eventually emitted light from inside, becoming a jukebox of sorts as Wegner danced to Sinatra's version of "I've Got the World on a String." But the best of Wegner's props was the littlest — a piece of chalk. Enough for Leo to create a world. Drawing a rug on the right-hand wall, the live Leo could lean backwards against that rug while the virtual Leo appeared to be lying contentedly on the floor. The rear wall presented more of a challenge, for when Leo drew a table, a cat, a radio, a fishbowl with a pet fish, and a window with a bird perched on the sill, they all needed to be tilted 90º toward 9 o'clock to stand upright in the virtual world.

Like Lear, Leo couldn't live happily in his gilded cage. Through the magical animations realized by Ingo Panke, the animals all came to life, and when the goldfish bowl tipped over, a flood of biblical proportions ensued, beaching Leo in his original existential solitude. Delivered without a scrap of dialogue, Leo seemed to be fashioned from bits of the templates left to us by Waiting for Godot and No Exit. To the Cirque du Soleil crowd, Leo should serve as a stern reminder that multimedia fantasias created by acrobats need not be pure nonsense and gibberish.

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