Friday, January 07, 2011

THEATER: Bonanza


[Part of the Under the Radar Festival]

Even though the town of Bonanza, Colorado, has only seven full-time residents, it's a little naive of company Berlin (Bart Baele, Yves Degryse, and Caroline Rochlitz) to assume that they can capture the essence of their life in only seventy minutes. To aid them, Berlin runs five screens at once -- sometimes in unison, sometimes with different angles of the same event, and sometimes (most effectively) with a simultaneous focus on each of the five main homes, appropriate for a place so small that everyone always knows what everyone else is doing. As an additional bit of flair, there's a scale model of Bonanza above the screens, designed by Koen De Ceuleneer, which has lights that go on and off according to the time of day on camera.

Given the loose narrative, Bonanza might have worked better as an installation: the best scenes are those that simply show the various tasks and quiet conversations that occur on the edge of nowhere. Instead, Baele's editing stalls when it attempts to address a feud between elderly couple Ed and Gail and the "mayor" of the town (who doesn't actually live there) and winds up suggesting far more than it actually shows, especially when it comes to the tragic Mary, a so-called "white witch" whose husband has recently died of cancer. The program also loses steam when it cuts to the easily laughable comments of Darva and Shikiah ("metaphysical coaches," though they're more like physical cockroaches) or suddenly introduces the ten additional people who have summer homes up there. The point is, even the smallest town is too big for a mere film, and the production needs to either shed the pretense of a plot or pick one specific angle to investigate and invest in.

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