Sunday, December 14, 2008

Opening Night, on stage, on screen, on my mind.

So, as usual, I’ve been taking advantage of the NYC arts scene.

Ivan Van Hoe’s Opening Night was presented as a part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Next Wave Festival. This was a dramatic adaptation of a 1977 film of the same name. The film, apparently, was about a drama which might be derailed if the lead actress cannot pull herself together before the big premiere. I saw it Friday, December 5 with mom.

This adaption of the film (about a play) tackled the same subject matter, but (in what I can only interpret as an ambitious structural move) brought a filmic element to the live adaptation through a “documentary team” there to capture the entire behind the scenes antics on film.

The result is a stage play that unveils the story on the stage with more than one frame of reference. The audience is invited to watch the show on the stage, as well as view the action via screens around the theater broadcasting the documentary footage live.

If it seems a little confusing here, that’s more my fault. It’s very clear what’s happening when you come to the show. The lead actress doesn’t want to do this part (she thinks it makes her seem irreversibly old), and the rest of the acting troupe, the director, and the frazzled writer are at their wits end. The documentary team plays a silent witness, and for good measure, the leading actress is haunted by a spirit who is either/both her lost youth or/and a young fan who dies in an accident outside the theater.

I’ll leave the heavy criticism to the New York Times. It was existential and stuff. Suffice it for me to say, I was engaged. This show was in Dutch with subtitles, and performed very well.

This work is self-reflexive, and is gesturing towards a different relationship with its audience. The actors break the walls, and come out to sit with us in the theater (which happens often enough these days.) They also have a few rows of audience on the stage, helping to ground the "play within a play" element.

That being said, in the final analysis, I do have to wonder what was intended with all this play-within-a play-within-a-documentary stuff. I mean, it was a cute way to add multimedia to a piece that seemed to have enough going on already. My problem is, I don’t think this jerry-rigged structure did all that much for me.

Now there are two caveats to this claim.

1. I don’t speak Dutch, so while a native speaker would enjoy the option of devoting their full attention to the stage at times, I had to keep my eye on those screens and the subtitles.

2. I sat it in the nosebleed seats. And from up there, you couldn’t see the entire stage, and some of the more ambitious film work was obscured by the ceiling.

So that’s that. There’s more to be said, but it gets heavily into formal analysis, which leads into a lot of other stuff I want to get into. I should just note that expanding the toolkit to include staged drama and film is fraught with pitfalls. And I’m not sure what the advantages are besides being “different.”

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