Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bigger Than i

Photo/David Cumming

A giant multimedia eye looks around, exploring its own socket. At last, it speaks: "You're not going to judge me?" Right on cue, Matt Greenbaum steps to a spotlight center stage, and makes the first of the evening's confessions, culled from the "found" contributions of people as anonymous as the owner of that nervous, introductory eye. If the goal of the "Second Annual Devised Project" of the Counting Squares Arts Collective, Bigger Than i, was to unite us, ala PostSecret, around a community of anonymous secrets, it has failed. Some secrets are just more interesting than others. The same can be said of certain members of the cast, but in that respect--pure performance--some of these "I's" are big enough to warrant watching.

First of all, there's Ryan Nicholoff, utterly at ease on stage, whether he's a man whore, callously recounting his lengthy list of conquests ("This bitch was looking for a handout, but all I was handing out was dick"), or a sympathetic dishwasher, just trying to get through the day. Then there's Edward Davis, who learns what it's like to kiss his best friend and co-theater blogger for the first time on an Internet dare, and who we later find struggling to come to realize the sexual fantasy he has of the white master and black slave. There's Dena Kology, too, who manages to avoid being the token woman--by playing a male construction worker being trained in the profession of cat-calling.

The question is whether these disjointed, incomplete stories--decently acted, but narratively unfulfilling--are big enough to satisfy you. Michael Barringer and Kantarama Gahigiri have thrown in some neat video collages (in which, at high-speed, secrets are expressed in an artistic way--often with glitter), but that creativity lends itself more to a gallery exhibition than to a theater. There's plenty of video testimonial, but it's flatly projected onto a single screen, and--especially in comparison with Nick Sprysenski's more overt staging--sort of alienating. The show calls for more theatricality, as when Greenbaum fights with his mind (played by three actors) for control of an emotional letter he's trying to write his lost love. There's not much there, so it really needs finessing, as when two actors breaks the fourth wall of a confessional to help pantomime the man's guilt.

More often than not, Sprysenski manages to charm these scenes through. But when he misses, as with the short and aimless role-play of Daddy and Little Girl, it becomes all the more apparent just how much of a stretch Bigger Than i is taking. There's something there, but in this case, it's not big enough for I.

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