Faye Driscoll’s newest work premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fisher Theater last week, as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. As usual, Driscoll has expertly crafted an ensemble piece replete with dance, song, caricatured accents, incredible costumes, a movable and deconstruct-able set and truly versatile performers. But where the first two-thirds of the piece are jam-packed with color and verbosity, the final third is quiet, mysterious, even disturbing.
Thank you for coming: Play tells the life story of a character named Barbone (or at least that’s how I imagined it spelled). Every dancer in Ms. Driscoll’s ensemble takes on not only the role of Barone, at some point, but also the roles of every other supporting character. It’s not exactly a sequel to Driscoll’s 2014 Thank You For Coming: Attendance (a third piece in the series is planned), but it definitely shares its editorial and structural genes – the episodic outline of Barbone’s life that we see is told through movement and song vignettes, flamboyant characters, extravagant costumes (and costume changes). But where Attendance asked the audience members to be a part of the show’s creation throughout the performance (and thus bonded the audience to the performance and the performers irrevocably), Play’s audience participation (which Driscoll has asked remain a mystery) really only occurs at the beginning of the evening, with the exception of one short sing-a-long. I think this production suffers from that difference. It makes the audience feel more distant, more disconnected.
Where the performance does succeed is in its musical numbers, particularly the sing-a-long mentioned above, in which the audience is asked to contribute to a song about anxiety. A later solo for Ms. Driscoll about how filled with rage she is (the other cast members play accompaniment) feels appropriately raw and timely, given the current turbulence resulting from the presidential election. Sean Donovan increases the value of every scene he inhabits, somehow turning a two-minute turn into a three-dimensional character with a singular voice, heft and walking pattern. It’s clear that he is a talented actor and singer as well as dancer.
Perhaps most stunning is the piece’s ending. At first, after the dancers have changed back into their everyday clothing and the set has been dismantled, you think this is something akin to what Levi Gonzales ended his The Craft of the Father with at the Chocolate Factory, a discussion of what just happened onstage. But then you realize that the dancers are repeating over and over again a very carefully choreographed and scripted scenario, occasionally revealing audibly with each repetition new bits of the dialogue they’re mouthing. What begins as a curious and somewhat frustrating experience for the audience becomes a tour de force and a commentary on the inherent loneliness of today’s cultural climate and maybe even on the nature of performance itself. It’s the perfect respite from the manic energy and zany characters that populate the piece up until that point, ending poignantly with Driscoll alone onstage, spewing exclamations – your emotions have by then officially run the gamut.
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