Avant garde theater has come up with new language to describe the multi-disciplinary roles of individuals expressing themselves simultaneously as writer/designer/director/performer: New York Neo-Futurists.
This savvy bunch of at once traditional and totally unconventional performers will inhabit the Standard ToyKraft space in Williamsburg through May 18 with their latest production Soft Hydraulics.
An evening of five diverse, one-act plays exploring the relationships between puppet and master that arise in our hyper-kinetic world. Drawing inspiration from online dating testimonials, 1970’s Kung Fu movies, New York City wildlife, parasomnia sleep disorders and the history of modern warfare, these plays adhere to the Neo-Futurist aesthetic of non-illusory, athletic theatre. Exploring the ever-increasing conflict between man and machine in a contemporary context, Soft Hydraulics is rooted in honest storytelling, puppet manipulation and immediate performance. This exciting, new production marks The New York Neo-Futurists first developmental partnership with Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Standard ToyKraft.
Since these performers were also the writers, it was an interesting combination of actors who don’t necessarily inhabit characters, but rather, tell stories through myriad juxtaposed voices as if to deliver a series of curated thoughts on a matter.
The five parts were disparate, but the theme of puppet and master held strong throughout all the different perspectives and cultural tastes. Particularly interesting was the use of audience members as puppets in the third act “Online Dating” by Dylan Marron.
A foursome of audience members were chosen to come up on stage. The performers attached each participant, one woman, three men, to mini iPods connected to ear buds, topped off with soundproof silencers. They could hear only the instructions delivered by the iPod. Dylan stood behind the audience, intervening to assist at times, but playing the ultimate puppet master from behind the curtain.
The group moved throughout the stage engaging with each other and dutifully and hilariously did what they were told to by the synchronized and highly individualized instructions, complete with props and numbered spaces giving positions.
Meanwhile, the audience listened to audio of various people explaining their encounters with people while online dating. At times these graphic scenes of jealousy, group sex and struggling to find intimacy in the digital landscape coincided with the actions of the puppet audience members who had no idea what exactly they were acting out on stage – much like the hindsight-laden stories shared in the overlaid audio.
The final act, Remote by Cara Francis, referenced something that was particularly on my mind lately – applying the language of the stage to the act of war. That war happens in a “theater” in the language of our national media was a poignant criticism of a society that distances itself emotionally from its own acts of aggression by putting it within the walls of a theater: a space generally removed from reality, in a good way. What do war and theater have most in common? Most of it is bad and very little of it is ever considered universally good – a great point made by this piece.
Thankfully, Soft Hydraulics is universally good, showcases a lot of diverse talent and it’s interesting to boot. I’m still thinking about it a few days later. Catch it while you still can, and check out their weekly production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, which I hope to check out very soon, next time I get into Manhattan.