Saturday, July 07, 2007

PLAY: "Washing Machine"

Photo/Ben Kato

Fist in the Pocket sure chose the right play to premiere their company with: Jason Stuart's stunning Washing Machine is equal parts creepy and charming, innocent and premeditated, choreographed and raw. In turn, Jason Stuart chose the right director for his work, his co-developer, Michael Chamberlin, who uses industrial minimalism to keep the focus on the story: What may or may not have happened to those involved in the washing machine drowning of a five-year-old girl. Chamberlin, then, chose the right actor to perform this demanding solo piece: Dana Berger launches herself into this role with enthusiasm and curiosity, yet always manages to pivot as crisply as the light design into each new character with a fresh tone, perspective, and rhythm.

In this melding of director, playwright, and actress, Washing Machine is able to cycle through a variety of styles. Brendan McCall's interpretive choreography goes from the euphoric first breath in the machine to the shuddering (yet still strangely beautiful) final asphyxiation. Akiko Kosaka's intimidatingly postmodern plastic representation of the washing machine and the hanging goldfish bags that keep the water so tantalizingly separate provides a space for exploration. Ben Kato's lighting takes on a personality of its own as it flickers from harsh to psychedelic, and the music (ebbing from techno to the climax of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly") ominously swells out of Elizabeth Rhodes' sound design.

The beautiful but barren aesthetic allows Ms. Berger to operate with athletic grace, springboarding from character to character before eventually diving into the murky depth of the play. In one scene, she's a rigid insurance claims adjuster, clinging to her cigarette for dear life; in the next, she's a slouching, bitter old man who always manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She has to play not only the unfortunate child (whose tongue sticks out first in curiosity and later in a swollen, muffled scream), but the unfortunate young mother who, as if in a trance, stands gaping for 21 seconds before smashing the glass with a rock. Stuart and Chamberlin don't provide any answers to the girl's tragic death, so it's up to Berger to form connections with the characters, and her familiarity with them (even an abnormally young post-pubescent boy) allows her to be shockingly direct with the audience.

Washing Machine is, not surprisingly, a very clean production of a sadly dirty story. It's an hour-long glimpse at an otherwise unnoticed ripple in the pool of life. But unlike the chore with which it's associated, this production is anything but perfunctory; it more resembles perfection.

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