Friday, May 25, 2012

REVIEW: The Window

May 23rd - 29th
(on 20 minute cycles -- see below)

Firstly, you have almost no reason not to see this show. It is free, so it's not costing you money. It's short (20 minute cycles on repeat) so it's not costing you time. It's in Midtown, which means it's probably about as easy to get to as any place in New York. So just go. Just see it yourself.

To set the scene, I'm coming off my day job (no, this blog is not paying my bills thankyouverymuch), and I'm still dressed in a suit. It's the corner of 38th and 3rd Avenue, and I'm looking to see where the Romanian Cultural Institute is. And as I walk up to the store front, I can see that the street-facing rooms of the RCI have been converted -- one, into a kitschy crazy wonderland of boas, masks, and children's toys, and the other into a spare room with a video playing on a loop.

The Window is three short moments, all together 20 minutes long, on a loop. Each one consists of a short repeated dance sequence (in the room with the looping film) with Alice (Robin Johnson) and her Beau (Nick Smerkanich), and then a slice of Alice's life, performed with dance, clowning, and performative mime.


In the video above, you hear the dialogue. This is an error on the film's part. Because of the street-level glass, for those observing from outside, you can almost never tell what's being said.

Which is good. If I put my intellectual hat on for a moment, (not for long, I promise), I'd say that this performance is, on a deeper level, making fun of the form of "realist", proscenium theater as it became with Ibsen. If you were to reduce this play to its bare essentials, you'd have the schematic for a typical Ibsen play: a young lady, smothered by her family and her obligations, looks desperately for a way out.

The young lady, Alice, is on display -- literally, because she's dancing in front of an acknowledged window in front of an acknowledged audience, and metaphorically as well, because the first two moments explore how she "tries to be a good wife" and "tries to be a good daughter" before trying to be "a good Alice." Good is, after all, a performance -- an external projection of what you think other people want from you -- but those other people are present.

But this isn't the traditional theater. Alice leans on the fourth wall pretty hard (literally, in fact, since some of her dancing and performance is up against the glass), but all of the traditional theater's tools use the intimacy of the space to wend the emotional connection. Not here. You can't hear her, so her performance reaches out through exaggerated, dance-theater gestures.


Okay, intellectual hat off, I promised. Enough talking about what it was -- what did The Window achieve?

Most specifically, it achieved a beautiful sense of strange and odd. And it achieved that for a passer-by audience of gawkers who did not, in fact, intend to arrive. While I was there, I stood next to an on-his-break Dunkin Donuts employee, a gaggle of Midwestern women on their way back to a hotel ("Oh my!"), a couple of outer borough tough guys ("This is fuckin' crazy, man?" "What the fuck is this-- some kind of like theater thing?"), and more.

Of course, the connection to the gawkers and passers-by was momentary. Even though the performance was 20 minutes on repeat, with roughly 6 minutes per moment, very few of the passers-by stayed for more than a moment or two. I'd love to catch them later and hear what their moment was, and whether anything happened for them beyond the "Oh weird" initial impression -- some stayed a bit longer than that initial flash, but it's difficult to know what else they may have gleaned.


Still, the work was short and sweet. A small emotional world was crafted, from moment to moment, and well performed through the incredible performativity of the ensemble. Best was the middle section, where a sexual imp (Inés Garcia) invades married life with untoward ideas (which mostly manifest as lingerie pulled, magic-like, from every imaginable place). Some of the sharpness of work is obscured by a somewhat crowded and unfocused set design (I would have preferred it to be a more sharply curated girl room), but overall, it was a neat little package to deliver.

(No Disclaimer.)