Creators: ANIMALS Performance Group
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
ANIMALS performance group has a bold mission statement. They use various visual and performance media “to create moments of surprise, irreverence and incongruity that disrupt the perceived stability of social beliefs and attitudes.” Sometimes, in an effort to make new and exciting theatre that challenges conventions and explores big ideas, artists over-complicate the work, and the stronger ideas get lost in the noise.
In a post-apocalyptic underground bank branch, cobbled together with scraps from the world before, and inhabiting only the front third of the stage, six employees allegedly all named Chase—though none of them pronounce it that way—gather together to prepare for customers that never arrive, in order not to “give way to despair.” A group exercise that appears at first to be some bastardization of Tai Chi leads into an absurd musical number played on the ingeniously rigged makeshift instruments on stage. A water jug, a 3-hole-punch, and the tarpaulin that permeates both the set and costume design, are just some of the non-instrumental instruments that make up the band. Then one employee has a breakdown, which leads to tearing down the strips of paper and fabric and plastic that make up the downstage curtain, and dancing across more of the stage than had previously been accessible. We hear the sounds of storms approaching, and we learn about the Volcanic Explosivity Index, in all its numerical and poetic glory (0-8, or effusive to mega-colossal).
There is humor, and the performers are clearly committed to their performances, but the production falls short. It’s hard not to when the company has such a grand mission, and this production in particular sells itself with such lofty designs. “Through their dreams, stories, prayers, songs, dances and conflict resolution seminars, the Chases attempt to forge a new and meaningful world from the crumbled edifice of contemporary corporate culture.” ANIMALS performance group knows what the new and meaningful world should be, and in the final moments of the play, give us their answer. It’s a sermon couched in performance art. It lacks narrative, but is not visually striking enough to work on a non-performance level, and is without a revelatory moment for the audience that aligns with the revelatory moment for the actors.
There’s a question mark in the title but ANIMALS thinks it has the answer, and they offer it up at the end of the show. Theatrically, an answer can be very unsatisfying, especially when the work is primarily abstract. Sometimes the piece should stop after it raises the big question, and let the audience answer for itself. It’s more difficult to raise the right question than to give out your answer, but far more rewarding an experience.
Runs until 31 October 2015