Thursday, January 14, 2010

Under the Radar Festival: L'Effet De Serge

Photo/Martin Argyroglo Callias Bey

Let's not pretend this is anything other than it is. This is theater. You have come to see a show. Right from the start, Gaëtan Vourc’h ensures that we are aware of this, entering his wide, half-empty apartment in a spacesuit, gear from Philippe Quesne's previous show. As he crosses between the two, showing the fluidity of this dream-like world, he points out the wide potential of this room: yes, you can play music on the stereo, and eat food off of the ping-pong table, but you can also traverse the room by crawling under the rug.

With the scene "set," Vourc'h steps into the shoes of Serge, a reserved, polite, and totally correct young man who enjoys inviting people over for his performances--things akin to a planetarium's laser light show, only on the most minute level. Given the intense normality, however, of Quesne's direction, these moments take on true magic. After a long stretch of watching Vourc'h sit around watching a soap opera while drinking red wine, playing with remote-controlled vehicles, and eating chips, we welcome the sudden arrival of a woman on a bike. Though what follows is similar to what he'd rehearsed on his own, the presence of an audience--evoking Grotowski's Theater of the Poor--changes it. (So, too, does the inclusion of a soundtrack: Handel, in this case.)

These miniature scenes continue--"time passes, time passes" intones a Beckett-like recording--, each time growing slightly more elaborate, but always as precisely controlled. Thanks to the glass entrance to the set, we see the front end of a car pull up outside, and chuckle as Serge uses its headlights (and Wagner) to conjure up his next display. "I didn't know you could do that with a car," says his departing guest, which is actually pretty deep, as deep as Serge's effects, if you think about it.

The climax of L'Effet De Serge is no exception--it suddenly happens, just as suddenly vanishes, and the remainder of the show is given over to the awkward wonderment of his guests--we, the actual audience, included. To say that this is an explosively soothing show, an ode to the need for stillness and focus, especially in a city that never sleeps, would be an understatement. Better to just smile and nod, like Serge's guests, as they dizzily return to the real world.