Over the past three decades, Big Dance Theater’s founders Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar have developed an intriguing oeuvre of quirky, inventive dance-theatre pieces, so it is not surprising to find them in mighty fine form this evening, for the New York premiere of their latest work, Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature.

<i>Alan Smithee directed this play</i> Big Dance Theater © Ian Douglas
Alan Smithee directed this play Big Dance Theater
© Ian Douglas
 The piece begins with a bare stage, except for a lone wall at the rear, reminiscent of a motel, perhaps somewhere in Florida – you know the ones, with those vertical Venetian blinds you can flip-flop depending on how much light you want to let in. Soon as the lights dim, the performers begin simply crossing the stage, as if to charge the space with their presence.Next, three couples are formed, mirroring each others movement – and such visual echoes set a leitmotif to be repeated and reinvented throughout the piece. As a matter of fact, much of Alan Smithee is about threes, including the source material for the piece, culled from three separate film scripts: Terms of Endearment, Dr. Zhivago, and Le Circle Rouge. The ensuing mise-en-scene, especially in the earlier section, is a rapid succession of incomplete fragments of dialogue and movement, often repeated, rewound, and reinvented. Images are quickly constructed and ultimately abandoned, yet, a compelling dramaturgical logic emerges – a method to the madness – that eschews the work falling into the arbitrariness, which can be a danger with this type of deconstructing approach. Thankfully, this production is buoyed by a prodigiously charismatic cast, and honestly, it would be unfair to isolate any single player, as their individual strengths support each other, producing a fearless ensemble without a weak link.

As the piece progresses, somewhat dizzyingly, Big Dance Theatre litters the stage with fragments of images, and techniques referencing the films that inspired the work: patches of leather and fur and those mod patterns from the 70’s appear in unlikely places in the costumes, dialogues put the Russian revolution, the kitchen sink, crime and romantic strife on a delightful collision course, with playful overdubbing (in movement and dialogue) of film scenes projected on the Venetian blinds, which occasionally open to reveal secondary action in the background.

<i>Alan Smithee directed this play</i> Big Dance Theater © Ian Douglas
Alan Smithee directed this play Big Dance Theater
© Ian Douglas
All along, the atmospheric soundtrack skips, distorts, rewinds and deteriorates – and this glitchy aesthetic supports the piece throughout the performance. I felt like I was momentarily wired into the delirious mind of a writer working on a doomed screenplay, going through a mental Rolodex of ideas, desperately attempting to assign kernels of dialogue and action to different characters, but then discarding them all, frustrated by his inability to find the right fit. The ebb and flow of ideas being conjured and dismantled is reflected in the stage images as a visual metaphor – the creative process (or perhaps, the creative block?) made manifest.

And here, ultimately, is where the work’s title comes in: for those of you who may not be film buffs, "Alan Smithee" is the pseudonym that Hollywood assigns to film credits once a director abandons a production over “creative differences”, effectively divesting him/herself from the ownership of the project. The title, in this case, is ironic, of course – as Big Dance Theatre owns this one, big time.