Dispatches from live performance in frigid New York
Suddenly he speaks — in a funny but vaguely disconcerting stagger of assembled speech bites, culled from the character's entire lexicon, the actor's "body" of work. The captain has been commandeered. Someone or something else from beyond (beyond this time and beyond language) is speaking to us through him. The transmission, spelled out on the far screens, comes in segments or "chapters," and has a philosophical cast: a discussion of the differences between art and science. Its purpose, we are told, is to convey a message to us from the future, which alone knows where we are headed. The message itself (the beautifully written text is by Joe Diebes; the excellent audio-visual scheme by Rob Ramirez) is prefaced and forestalled, in a half-teasing fashion, by a discussion of some basic terms.
The performance's sole human figure, meanwhile — other than two-dimensional James T. — is an expressionless Japanese woman (an imposingly restrained Mari Akita) who moves the wheeled screen slowly about the stage, illustrates a point or two with a few simple movements, and, in one deceptively incongruous moment, picks up a microphone to deliver (in subtitled Japanese) a monologue about coming to the United States and falling obsessively into the world of drag queens and female impersonation.
Hilarious yet eerie, playful yet purposeful, oblique yet precise, conceiver-director Phil Soltanoff's An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk proved a dialectical delight; and in its teasing manner and final indirect plea for some small but profound transcendence, it was, pardon the expression, fascinating.
In another wonderfully estranging but altogether earthbound offering, COIL teamed up with American Realness and New York City Players (the latter seen at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last February with its co-production of Early Plays by Eugene O'Neill) to co-present writer-director Tina Satter's offbeat, sharp-footed House of Dance (in association with Satter's own company, Half Straddle, and the Abrons Art Center).
Set in a small New England tap studio among four fractious, serious, and seriously oddball tap dance competitors (played with a combination of understated delivery and irresistible flair by Jess Barbagallo, Elizabeth DeMent, Jim Fletcher, and Paul Pontrelli), the 60-minute House of Dance trumps the hackneyed pomp of reality television with the heightened banality of its obscure, ego-invested lives — who do in fact dance the hell out of their tap shoes.
These startling moments evoked a real joy too, a flight from obscurity into a greatness no championship trophy could hope to convey — at once so light, so personal, yet communal, it made one realize this piece could only make sense as a live performance. And feel sorry for those people who did not venture out this night, but stayed indoors against the howling cold. *