Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chewing the scenery

For some reason it bugs me a bit when audiences applaud the sets on Broadway. On the one hand we cheer the cast at the end, so why not give the set designer some love as well? On the other hand, it's a chandelier, people! The worst is when overstuffed, super-realistic apartments pop up in Roundabout or Lincoln Center Theater productions. Interrupting the flow of a show to applaud them is pushing interior-design envy a little too far…

But if there's one show where the sets deserve applause, it's Basil Twist's Dogugaeshi at Japan Society. In fact, they literally provide the action in the wordless piece. A puppet pokes its head up from time to time, but otherwise the show consists of series of painted backdrops moving back and forth to create an illusion of depth, plus occasional projections (I often was reminded of that falling feeling in Hitchcock's Vertigo).

I'm far from being an unconditional Twist fan: I thought La Bella Dormante nel Bosco a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center Festival was a precious snooze, and I tend to prefer when he contributes to a preexisting production, like Paula Vogel's Long Christmas Ride Home in 2004, or even Theater Couture's Carrie and Mabou Mines' Red Beads.

But Dogugaeshi, I'm happy to report, is a genuine trip—in both the literal and figurative senses. Twist respectfully uses an arcane Japanese tradition, but he also updates it by incorporating very clever electronicky sound design along with Yumiko Tanaka on the shamisen. The scene in which the scenery decays under our eyes is spellbinding, for instance, and the balance between projections and moving backdrops in the city scene is perfect. In fact, it's the ever-shifting relationship between high- and low-tech, past and present, figurative and abstract, that makes Dogugaeshi so appealing.

Hurry if you want to go: The Japan Society's performing space had been reconfigured to fit the piece's stage and it only seats 70 people at a time.

On a sorta related note, Steve Smith's come up with an excellent review of Wednesday's Chthonic show at BB King's, and so I invite you to pay a visit to Night After Night posthaste.

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