Sunday, February 24, 2008

Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road)

Photo/Kenneth Collins

It's interesting to note that Kenneth Collins doesn't call Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road) a play -- he opts for "performance" instead. Well, that's true, what with the tightly framed "stage" (a pair of transparent changing-room mirrors), the languid language (mostly delivered in breathy whispers), and William Cusick's Lynchian dream projecting onto a widescreen banner above the set. I'd go with the word "experience" instead, as the whole production is so uniquely compelling -- controlled to the point of ultimate enthrallment -- that you won't soon forget this show.

The plot operates loosely around the fugue of Wyatt (Brian Greer), a drifter with blood on the dashboard, and the memories of Hunter (Ben Beckley), who may have murdered a hitchhiker. Women (Stacey Collins, Lorraine Mattox, and Jessica Pagan) filter in and out of the boxed set, eerily resembling one another in the dark, and the two men stoically wend their way around and through them. Shot as a photo-realistic noir (Cusick uses still photos as a digital background that he places behind the actors), the film plays out as a fantasia for the ghost-like actors below, who say cryptic things like "I ain't here to perpetuate your delusions" and "You're like one of them rides at Disneyland. You make me dizzy."

The set-up -- mirrors, the interplay between what's live and what's recorded, and vocal style -- all works to perpetuate the idea of the double. Even the film has symmetrical sections: scenes run backward and forward, always steadily panning to or from something; there's even a musical interlude ("Everybody's Got Their Demons") that injects a Tarantino-sized dose of adrenaline. On one level, the play is about coping with those energetic demons from the past, but that comes across from the duality of Man: Hunter sits at a campfire, forcing Wyatt to repeat his axioms about the necessity (and therefore unapologetic nature) of sin; in other scenes, Hunter and Rose (Mattox) echo the sweet-and-sour nothings of a voice track, or simply lip-sync the words, as if there were two entirely different characters there.

In terms of pacing, Welcome to Nowhere is slow, but utterly sustained, a narrative device that's justified by the endless drifting of its twinned protagonists. There are lengthy shots of highway sprawl, broken up by the ebb of superimposed memories and the occasional act of surprisingly raw violence, and these scenes -- especially paired with the lighting -- all work to maintain an ominous and moody atmosphere. If it's one that is confusing, so be it; you certainly can't blame anyone in this fantastic cast for your own perceptions.

Welcome to Nowhere is like brazenly sticking your head out the window of a car speeding through the night; it's sometimes hard to make out what's happening, but the wind slapping across your face feels so good, you don't care. Don't try to unpack the bags; just hop in the passenger seat and let Collins take you for a ride.

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