Saturday, February 6, 2016

PuSh 2016: L'Immédiat

L'Immédiat, on at the Playhouse through this evening as part of the PuSh Festival, is perhaps best described as the new new circus. Which is to say that in addition to there being no animal acts, it is also not meant to look virtuosic, like the confections of Cirque du Soleil. Shambolic is the word my visiting colleague and seat mate Karen Fricker used to describe the antics of the eight performers (five men, including creator and Association Immédiat founder Camille Boitel, and three women) who conspire to produce the lunatic chaos that is this show.

The piece is divided into two main halves, followed by a climactic coda. In the first half a stage already littered with hundreds of props and set pieces gradually becomes home to more and more things, some of them flotsam particular to the theatre, including falling wires and crashing lights, most of them just imported junk, like the plastic water bottles released from a fly, or the cardboard boxes thrown in from the wings. Amid this rubble the performers, wearing an assortment of matted fur coats, dart and lurch, sometimes seeking to avoid all manner of matter thrown their way, but just as often abetting its physical distribution about the stage by kicking over a ladder here or releasing a net filled with shiny paper there. Then, just as suddenly, the back stage wall opens up and the performers start to clean up, using an assortment of long janitor's brooms to sweep the detritus out of sight.

Thereafter an assortment of moveable black curtain panels drops to the stage from the rafters, which together with some tricked out furniture (including a wardrobe subject to multiple entrances and exits) the ensemble uses to launch into a madcap routine of physical comedy and quick change artistry. Combining slapstick, pantomime and contortionism, the performers' movements are at once athletic and graceful, and in their precision and timing the ensemble is working like a finely tuned corps de ballet--most evident, for me, in their combined efforts to pull off the long slanted or askew set piece at the end of this section.

The show ends with one of the women, whose limbs keep floating up the sky, being buried under a growing mound of rubble. It starts with that wardrobe being tipped over onto her, on top of which the other performers gradually pile more and more things, building a ziggurat of precarious form and unusual beauty from the scrap heap of objects recycled at the end of act one. It's a stunning act of recomposition that provides formal closure to the sequence of collapsings with which the piece begins. However, I also couldn't help thinking of the gender of the body who peaks out from this midden just before the final blackout, especially given that elsewhere in the piece the men (who all at some point or another are wearing dresses) consciously play with tropes of femininity. To draw from the research of another colleague of mine, Laura Levin, is this woman being entombed within her environment or choosing to blend in with it? Who or what is being disciplined in this dazzling and mercurial exploration of the organicity and performativity of bodies and things?


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