Sunday, January 20, 2008

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, in addition to being the premiere play of new multimedia theater group 1927, is also an idiomatic expression for being given a choice between two dangerous alternatives. I'm sad to report that this production, which has won several awards in UK festivals, is actually a remarkably tame and crude combination of real people and animated backgrounds -- writer/director/performer Suzanne Andrade speaks truly when she announces that what we'll see are "ten strange stories and terrible tales." But saying so doesn't really excuse such scrapheap stories, stories only occasionally salvaged by their unique presentation as faux 1920 video projections: multimedia done classically. Their result is what I imagine rerecording an mp4 onto an eight-track might sound like.

The first tale, "The 9 Deaths of Choo Choo Le Chat," shows the capability of their technology: a real-time umbrella repels recorded rain; an actor pantomimes falling from a roof with digital assistance (think Urinetown); pretends to be tied to railroad tracks (where's Snidely Whiplash when you need him?); and suffers four other wry deaths. The rest of the scenes are just absurd vignettes, like about a family that starts by deep frying everything from the television to the lawn and eventually the children ("Deep Fried"); or about the rise of the Gingerbread Men ("The Biscuit Tin Revolution"), an imitative bit of Edward Gorey ("a lavender lake where meringue swans sing, they crawl under rocks and liquorice logs").

One piece that works has two twins run directly from the camera's frame into the stage's boundaries (Last Action Hero, done theatrically); speaking creepily as one, they select a victim from the audience, and then, after dressing him to look like their dead grandmother, they pull him behind the projection wall -- and suddenly he's in the film as well. That's deft editing by Paul Barritt, and good timing from Andrade and her partner, Esme Appleton. But it's followed by a video clip in which a crude, herky-jerky puppet is unintelligibly devoured by the devil's vagina (as Lillian Henley coolly provides a live piano accompaniment), and that brings us back to reality: without some sort of story, everything is just an aimless effect, grim icing on a macabre cake.

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