Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Under the Radar - "LIGA, 50% reward & 50% punishment"

Photo/Klaas Paradies

Kids will be kids, but it's quite another thing when adults can be kids. Especially when it's done believably so. LIGA, 50% reward & 50% punishment ought to be retitled "100% risk & 100% reward," for this "liga" (Dutch for "league") of actors, the theater-initiative Kassys, has stepped out on a very fragile limb and captured the attention of an audience that has largely forgotten how to play. If there is a fountain of youth, Kassys has tapped it: such spontaneity, purity of behavior, and intense make-believe is rarely seen onstage.

If one requires a plot, LIGA follows the cast as they grow from individual children, each playing with whatever props they find in whichever way they please, into a group working together to make a barbecue (a rather ingenious example of group-think), and finally into an older group, one that now substitutes clever puns for cleverer actions. But the play works fully as an engaging exploration of human interaction, right down to the scolding supervision of Klass Paradies, who tries to rein in the more dangerous recreations of scaffold-hanging Marc Stoffels, or the unconscious sexuality of Willemijn Zevenhuijzen. These are outstanding actors, from the pride Harm van Geel finds in a belt that he finds, to the attention-starved nuance (or lack thereof) in Thijs Bloothoofd, not to mention the shy meanderings of the creative Esther Snelder.

Even the filmed opening of LIGA seems natural; there's a sparkle in the close-up eyes of the cast as they are caught on camera awkwardly leaving the stage; contentedly celebrating with the director, Liesebeth Gritter; and then abashedly exiting the theater with their families. There is, in fact, such an cohesive aura to this group that even when the film notes "One hour earlier" and rolls up the projection screen to reveal the live set (and, one by one, the actors), there isn't a hint of artifice. It is pretendious, not pretentious.

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