Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Synesthesia 2009

Every so often, words fail, and that's why theater will always have the edge, especially the tent-pole-widening version that Electric Pear's all about. (Why stop at three dimensions, or a fourth wall, when theater can reach all five senses?) In the 2009 edition of the annual Synesthesia festival, an original thought crosses ten genres as each artist's interpretation is reinterpreted--a mix of Telephone and Exquisite Corpse. A fortune cookie's wisdom is quite trite, but it quickly becomes personal when Aja Monet channels the "soul food" images it brings to her mind into a spoken-word poem. Nine performers and eighty minutes later, those emotions lead back to food for thought--literally--, thanks to the chocolate-making Mast Brothers.

Along the way, however, art flies all over the place--and that's part of the fun. In a clever bit of direction from ringmasters Ilana Manaster and Gregory Stuart Edwards, each piece is preceded by a taped introduction, in which we see the performer's gut reaction to the previous "step" before we see their creative reaction. Not only does this help smooth over scene changes, it also invests us in the process, like good DVD commentary. (Piehole, a group of puppeteers, have some choice words.) Above all, it never ceases to impress just how creative this bunch is: it's one thing to observe an artist's technique. It's quite another to make it your own--especially in only two weeks. (For some reason, the quickfire challenges on Top Chef come to mind.)

Given the diverse nature of the show, it's pointless to single out specific moments--from Harry Hancock's ornate painting to Kevin Colden's black-and-white comic to Juliana Trivers's violin and keyboard composition, everyone's bound to have different favorites. Jessica Delfino's Sarah Silvermanesque musical comedy is pretty quotable though: "Guys I date don't mind [my awkwardness], because they know I'm less likely to carry a baby to term." So is a joke from Kara Lee Corthron's New Georges-sponsored short: "What do you get when you cross a lesbian and a dinosaur? Lickalottapuss." And lest you think that only comedy is universal, wait until you see Dan Sharnoff's avant-garde film and Ed Rice's gymnastic dance (with limes).

Aside from the killer concept, Synesthesia is also a unifying work of theater--it's built from a community of passionate artists, but in no way excludes the casual theatergoer. Republicans are welcome to continue thinking that art cannot stimulate the economy (though the packed house begs to disagree), but no-one will ever be able to say that art doesn't stimulate the senses.

No comments: