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Sorry Robot
Photograph: Paula CourtSorry Robot

Reviewing shows in Under the Radar, COIL and more: part 1

By Helen Shaw
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For a certain kind of person, early January is the loveliest time of the year. Sure, it's freezing, vacation's over, everybody's grumbling about how nobody appreciated the gifts they gave—and yet we're surrounded by a thousand shows, the fast-and-cheap festivals of Under the Radar, PROTOTYPE, COIL, Circus Now, American Realness and Special Effects. It's the best way to beat the winter doldrums: stand directly under the gushing nozzle of live performance, and let your desiccated soul be rehydrated by the flood.

COIL (P.S. 122's offsite fest), got off to a wonderful, warm start on Tuesday with Faye Driscoll's remount of ***** Thank You For Coming: Attendance, her sly dance-theater study of the way performers and an audience can knot themselves together. On a platform in the center of Danspace's bright wooden nave, five dancer-actors tie themselves into silly, complicated, counterweighted clumps. But why is Driscoll herself wriggling under the platform? Driscoll disassembles the stage from below, then gently herds us into a new configuration, which accommodates sweeter and more spectacular ways of entangling the audience into the action. A musical sequence reimagines a schoolteacher calling class attendance; a text section enforces our own kinesthetic response. Driscoll and the talented company have made a formally precise triptych on audience reception, but we play the game with them, and to joyful effect.

Less polished is Mike Iveson, Jr.'s ** Sorry Robot (above), a comedy with music about automata trying to convince a suspicious government agent (Anthony R. Brown) that he should approve their emotional upgrades. Archly deadpan Iveson has been the galvanizing Gonzo in many a downtown show, but here he's tentative, still working out the way to be both star and first-time writer. Still, the cast boasts some of New York's best brilliantly weird forces—Tanya Selveratnam, Nicky Paraiso and Iveson himself—but the production is still shaky, and left me wishing to see version 2.0.

Elsewhere in COIL are a revival of one of my favorite shows by The TEAM, the masculinity-poking ***** Roosevelvis (here's my review from its first time around), and Temporary Distortion's band-in-a-box installation *** My Voice Has An Echo In It, in which a shipping container-size room, walled in one-way mirrors, houses beautiful people playing trance-y rock. It's absorbing but uninteresting, which I don't actually mean as a criticism. We listen through headphones; the object itself is richly constructed. Voice takes the concert experience and turns it into something private and luxe—the company is present, yet they've sublimed into holograms in front of us.

For gorgeousness, text, musicality, heft, pathos and boxes all happening together, you'll need to go to Under the Radar to see ***** O Jardim, the unabashedly emotional, time-shifted drama from Brazilian group Companhia Hiato. Written and directed by Leonardo Moreira, the work is divided in three, with cardboard boxes walling off small performance areas for each of the three seating banks. Three generations of one family inhabit the garden, and in each there are terrible abandonments, misunderstandings and rapprochements. The scenes repeat and rotate, and we see how the death knell of one marriage has echoed down through 75 years. It's achingly sad—and it's actually a help that we read from supertitles, which cool and ironize the superheated emotions.

On the other end of the temperature scale is the remount of **** A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again,director Daniel Fish's icily elegant live remix of texts by David Foster Wallace. I reviewed a longer version in 2012, and while the conceit of the show is that everything changes (Fish chooses from a selection texts, which are then fed through the performers' headphones as cues), much is actually the same. It's much shorter this time around; Fish cuts down the 150 minute version to a very consumable 90 minutes, and while it means we feel leaving less deranged, less assaulted than before, it also feels a little less like a mass offered up to a vanished saint.

RECOMMENDED: See more Under the Radar festival coverage

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