Sunday, October 12, 2008

Waves of Mu

The first sign that Waves of Mu is trying just a little too hard is when, to enter the theater, you have to take off your shoes and walk through an art installation that resembles the mind. You go in one ear and it all comes out the other, but that's actually pretty neat: walking on squishy foam that bounces like brain tissue, getting bossed about by a secretary who happens to be the thalamus. No, what's working too hard in Amy Caron's world is that we're offered chocolate and champagne, neither of which represent anything, and for a play that's obsessed on how our senses (mirror neurons) translate information to produce empathy, it doesn't do to send out mixed signals.

After the exhibit, we're loaded into a theater-turned-laboratory, made to sign waivers, and prepared to participate in several psychological experiments. As it turns out, another disappointment, we're actually just meant to watch (there's perhaps too much emphasis on the video of this mulidisciplinary work). At first, we look at random dots and gradually associate them with human shapes; next, we move on to a video of a baby, and our inherent understanding of the complex facial expressions it is learning. It's obvious, but not painfully so (unless cuteness irritates you).

However, these moments are surrounded by some very loose connections to an interview with the quite charismatic V. S. Ramachandran. Sarah flips out in a demonstration of compulsive echolailic language, two assistants describe Amy's balloon blowing in a literal and then figurative fashion, our shoes are given to us as presents--but these events have little to do with empathy. Other scenes--a video of the 2008 NFC Championship, the ensuing relaxation conjured up by watching a cat, and a meditative exercise about gravity--go on long after the point is made. Caron is clearly fascinated with this world, and wholly at play, be it with small-talk and string or interpretive dance. However, audiences may find their mirror neurons out of sync with her ultimately cloying presentation.

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