Monday, December 28, 2009

Terrible Things

"You're trying to pass your self-absorption off as a metaphysical experiment," says Katie Pearl, speaking as her Dad speaking to herself, so that much is true of Terrible Things. "You need to comprehend limits," she (as him) continues, "which is why you shouldn't do theater." This statement, on the other hand, is entirely false. Katie Pearl, who has created this project with her collaborator of fourteen years, Lisa D'Amour, and the help of choreographer Emily Johnson, should be doing theater. In fact, the problem with Terrible Things is that Pearl does understand limits. Too few terrible things happen and the action that does occurs is too tightly controlled by Johnson's choreography and by the audience's distance from the action to provide the immersion Pearl's chasing, a world in which every possible outcome is happening (and in which, therefore, anything and everything can happen).

The result is that things happen. Pearl, speaking via headset, connects some of these to her childhood dreams of being a ballerina, her relationship with her "action-figure" mother, and her ex-girlfriends (including Barbara), but even when she's directly speaking about things, it comes across in a refracted way to the audience, bent by the images present on stage. (This was highly effective in the last PearlDamour production I saw, Bird Eye Blue Print, but that site-specific work had no stage, and therefore no room for distance or refraction.) To that end, D'Amour has conjured up some excellent images (as she did in Stanley (2006)), using flip-panels with three-dimensional images to play with space, and various colors (yellows and reds) to snap us out of the black and white world we start in.

Sure, you could take Terrible Things as a communal out-of-body experience, with Pearl taking us along with the ride. That would explain the neat arrangement of marshmallows (like tiny, yummy graves) spread across the floor, and the fish-like way in which three dancers slowly sweep them off into piles. (If "explain" is the right word, that is. I recognize that that's not necessarily the point, but also that the play's tectonic drifts can make the audience restless, too.) That is, it allows for Jiu Jitsu wrestlers--the only male presence in this world--to face off with Pearl, and then--mid-frame, for everything to freeze and allow her to scurry out, but to what end? Here's where those nagging limits come back into play, reminding us that it is a play, that it is meant to provoke a response, or have an effect, as opposed to being the sort of infinite waking dream it wants to be.

Then again, the mind's the truly terrible thing to waste, and it's nice to see such creative muscles being flexed. If only it handled its beautiful surprises more compellingly.

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