Saturday, January 17, 2009

COIL/Under the Radar - "The Crumb Trail"

Photo/Gavin Quinn

As any good storyteller knows, it isn't really what you have to say so much as how you say it. One step removed from that are the experimental storytellers, who don't know how to say what they have to say, but are damn well going to try anyway--instinctually, if they must (and they must). The Crumb Trail, Pan Pan's appropriation of Hansel and Gretel (and, by association, a culture of fairy tales), goes one step deeper into the woods, wonderfully losing its way in the process, for it no longer cares what it says, only what you say, though they'll certainly work their asses off in the process.

If this sounds like work, it isn't: Gavin Quinn's direction does most of the work for the audience, introducing a clever new technique every five minutes or so, and Gina Moxley's script begins by quoting from the critical response to previous performances and continues by citing from a wide variety of sources, Shakespearean and YouTubean. At first, Pan Pan mirrors these cultural touchstones from afar, mimicking the "Numa Numa" guy and the "Star Wars Kid" on stage and then in their own YouTube response videos. But by the midway point, they go through the looking glass, now doing on stage what they had only lipsynched before. In one of several ambient rock songs, the group aptly calls this "Deja Voodoo," for the fiction becomes reality just as easily as the reality becomes fiction. Pan Pan's presentation is wholly transparent, with the iBook's screen and the sound board facing the audience and the lights ingeniously handled by a row of transparency projectors, but does that make it involvingly real or distractingly fake?

As with this type of "dream theater," it hardly matters. Bush Moukarzel and Aoife Duffin are playing versions of themselves as much as of Hansel and Gretel; Gina Moxley introduces herself as the writer, but is also the mother and the witch; and Arthur Riordan isn't just a performer within the piece (the step-father): he coexists outside it, as when he reads from Hansel and Gretel. Sadly, Moxley's script gets the short schrift--not only is it presented in fragmented form, but it is overwhelmed by the vivid context (and perhaps by a few musical references that are too specific to Irish culture). And yet, at the same time, happily, Moxley's script gets the short shrift--the play is loosely contained by a parallel structure, but the story is ultimately left to us.

[Considering how open the interpretations are, descriptions seem inadequate. Perhaps knowing this, edited footage of Pan Pan's performances, including The Crumb Trail, can be seen here.]

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