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The Gas Heart at the Nine: Theater review

The Nine mounts a choose-your-own-Dada-venture.

 (Photograph: Olivia Lilley)
1/4
Photograph: Olivia LilleyMary Jo Bolduc in The Gas Heart at the Nine
 (Photograph: Olivia Lilley)
2/4
Photograph: Olivia LilleyThe Gas Heart at the Nine
 (Photograph: Olivia Lilley)
3/4
Photograph: Olivia LilleyGreg Wenz in The Gas Heart at the Nine
 (Photograph: Olivia Lilley)
4/4
Photograph: Olivia LilleyStacie Hauenstein in The Gas Heart at the Nine
By Aeneas Sagar Hemphill |
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The Nine is an independently-produced nine-play cycle, a mix of world premieres and established works, all experimental and all free. For Part Four, the ensemble dusts off Tristan Tzara’s 1921 The Gas Heart, a significant work of Dada theatre. The Dada movement, born out of the collective trauma of World War I, rejects logic in favor of irrationality and nonsense. All rules, conventions, and premises are broken down. Think an extreme absurdism—in theatrical terms, like Beckett, without all that accessibility.  

So how to review a play like this? The very conventions that we normally use to examine the “quality” or “success” of a work are noticeably absent. No characters, no plot, and language in only the most primal sense. Tzara’s text is twisted, stretched, and scrambled into an expansive world for the audience to occupy rather than a coherent narrative. The actors wander the decaying space possessed, muttering, screaming, dancing, flipping the lights on and off. The venue, with a conspicuously-placed shower and all-marble jacuzzi room strongly suggesting its past life as an adult film studio, becomes a playground, where relationships are made in the moment and “events” occur organically. 

Your experience will depend just as much on your curiosity as on the performers. You’re given a chair on entry that you can place anywhere in the three rooms, but you are welcome to wander if you choose. You’ll want to, since action occurs all over and the focus has a way of shifting. Being bold can serve you well, as can your own awareness of the space. Changing the location from which I viewed the action altered the connotation of what I was seeing in amusing ways. At times I felt included as an audience to someone’s public catharsis, at others, like when I discovered a hole in one of the walls in the marble room that gave me a perfect vantage point to see what was happening two rooms down, made me feel almost like a voyeur. This kind of self-driven discovery makes the experience unique to every audience member, and in the process you’ll make connections with your fellow spectator you may not expect. As an intellectual exercise, a social experiment even, it’s quite a ride. 

But did I like it? That’s hard to say. There are moments in which all the gibberish comes together in just the right way, where you’re hit somewhere in your gut by some unplanned, even accidental, connection of sounds and movements that feels truthful, even if you can’t put your finger on what is happening.  It’s finding those moments and being open to them that makes the experience worthwhile. If you’re really looking for something different, check this out. There’s nothing to lose except some of your time, and you can leave anytime you like. It’s Dada, after all. The play doesn’t really care whether you like it or not.

 

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