Friday, January 09, 2009

COIL/Under the Radar - "Architecting"

Photo/Eamonn McGoldrick

The four distinct sections of Architecting, the TEAM's latest look at America, never satisfyingly cohere--at least, not as elegantly as in their metaphoric Chartres Cathedral--but at least they've got a term for it: thermodynamic history. This free-associative interpretation of events allows them to convert, conflate, and merge Americana, throwing it together in the hopes of creating something altogether new. The energy is there, but the frame of Architecting is so much larger than that of their last, the more centralized Particularly in the Heartland, that a lot of that hard work goes up in a puff of confusedly entertained smoke.

After a folksy musical pre-show introduction, the show introduces its layers: first, the present, in which Kerry (Libby King), an child genius mourning her father's death, comes to demolish what remains of a neighborhood in New Orleans so that she can complete her father's TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development). Instead, she discovers a group of transients, including Henry Adams (Jake Margolin, channeling Jeff Goldblum), a thermodynamic historian, and Margaret Mitchell (an attitudinal Jessica Almasy), you know, the long-dead author of Gone With the Wind. From here, the play jumps into the fictive universe of Scarlett O'Hara (the always charming Kristin Claire Sieh) before being co-opted by the unscrupulous Hollywood producer, Scott (Frank Boyd), and then, in Act II, lovingly remembered by a Scarlett Pageant competitor, Caroline (Sieh), and Joshua (Boyd), a Sonoco station manager, both positively touched by the novel, despite some of the controversy associated with it.

The question raised by Architecting is a good one: not "Why have we built this?" but "What have we built?" for with the passing of time, the utility of objects is thrown into flux. This is what leads to a battle between Mitchell's intent and Scott's appropriation, with Kerry's constructive destruction (or destructive construction) stuck in the middle, and Caroline and Joshua's interpretation watching from the fringe. Each takes their own inspiration from the past, being transformed (literally so--corsets abound) by what they claim as their own.

Under Rachel Chavkin's well-orchestrated direction, the visual result is similar to that of the Elevator Repair Service; the difference is that while ERS's flair is rooted solidly in language, the TEAM is hardly going by the book (let alone word for word). In any case, it makes for an exciting romp, driven by a cohesive ensemble and lacking only a follow-through for the audience. While Architecting fulfills the TEAM's definition of architecture ("that the building have a strong sense of identity"), what with all the moving walls and gaping plot holes, it's not easily inhabited by the average theatergoer.

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