Saturday, March 31, 2007

PLAY: "Doublethink"

As a study in human behavior alone, Doublethink (a creation of the U.K. troupe Rotozaza) is worth seeing. Two performers, neither of whom are privvy to the script or each other, are placed on opposite sides of a large space at PS 122; an ominously large, sanitarium-white curtain divides them. For the first thirty minutes, the audience, cleverly positioned as a "mirror" for the two guests, gets to inspect their fully flawed (and therefore natural) performance, as they do their best to follow a series of prerecorded directions (operated by the endlessly clever and flaw-less Neil Bennun and Silvia Mercuriali). Some of these are reminiscent of an actor's Alexander technique warmup, some simply allow us to see the commonplace under the spotlight; the illumination of how the mind processes information is engrossing. In the still, dimly lit moments of the opening, Steve Cuiffo and Theo Kogan would screw up simple instructions in their concentrated efforts not to mess up: it was the most human thing I'd ever seen on stage.

What's most impressive is how Ant Hampton, who directs the project, has managed to sustain this energy through the entire show. There are a lot of technically minute instructions, and a lot of ways for things to go wrong (though one gets the feeling that, like a Reeses peanut-butter cup, there's no one right way to do Doublethink), and as the show evolves into a complex avant-garde work of strangling lightbulbs, frenzied physical pantomime, and vodka-flinging antics, we're actually drawn in further: not because we understand it any better, but because our two actor surrogates don't understand it any more. They have instructions whispered to them, or scrawled out on cards, but they're as much in the dark as we are.

I wouldn't dare to guess at the meaning of Doublethink, but whereas other shows that rely on hapless guest performers often come across as gimmicks (like last year's An Oak Tree), this show's double-blind opening and quickening crescendos were too slick to be glib, and too human to see forced. Trust, communication, and committment were put to the test on Friday, and it turns out that's what makes us human most of all.

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