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Outside/In: Wooster Group

This past Sunday I saw The Wooster Group’s performance of “North Atlantic” at REDCAT, designed by Jim Clayburgh, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, and written by James Strahs.  The play was as if somebody took clips and snapshots of the 1960’s America and layered edited them into a single army reel.  Seeing the group before, I knew to let my mind go into a sorta soft focus and try to see the big frames of the story.  The New York Times writer, Ben Brantley, wrote a general review of the play if are looking for that.  My focus was on the Design.

The stage design, by Jim Clayburgh, consisted of a severely raked elevated stage with tables topped with spinning spools of recorded tape and rolling chairs elevated about six feet off the ground.  At times, the stage would go almost completely vertical and the girls who operated that recording machines would repel down.   Every mechanical element of the stage was exposed and highlighted to convey the militaristic machine that the play was occurring in. There were no literal depictions of setting and with just a few simple blocking changes, the set would completely change. In one scene, the crew went out to a bar, and in order to make this transition, the soldier simply put on a red wig and grabbed a tray while the rest of the crew went onto the upper platform and the cast leaned on the tables thereby giving the allusion that they were at a bar and we were looking down on them – watching and recording their actions.  This was great moment because these girls would record the action from above the whole play, and now we became the watchers/observers.

The structure of the play was based on action and reaction more so then a linear plot line, and the stage reflected that.  Every element in the stage was either active or facilitated an action.  There was nothing extraneous about the set, its form was in line with its function.  What also worked well was that the technology that was used was in time with its period. The sound design and editing was excellent.  I felt within the frame of the portal, everything relating to the stage was well thought-out, and kept at a minimum.   With such a fast moving work that can go anywhere at anytime. There is no time for a scene change, or space for something to be there just for decoration sake.  Modern theater has shown us that there are no overall rules when approaching a work, and that I need to shift my approach when facing different forms of the text. There is no more one size fits all.  I’m excited to see what’s ahead.

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