Ada/Ava: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Genet defined talent as being “courteous with respect to matter,” and by that standard, the Chicago-based artist collective Manual Cinema is talent incarnate. The virtuosic group makes elegant live-scored “silent films” that evoke sweetness, poignancy and fright. Above all, Manual Cinema's artists make tangible the care they take; we almost feel the courtliness with which they touch each of their fragile creations.
The title characters in Ada/Ava are twins: old ladies who live in a high lighthouse, playing chess and drinking tea. Tragedy strikes, much foreshadowed by Kyle Vegter's throbbing cello, and the surviving sister plunges into grief and then nightmare. A tricky arrangement of a rear-projection screen and four vintage overhead projectors (five puppeteers operate shutters and delicately cut transparencies) allows Kara Davidson and Julia Miller to “play” the sisters; they wear two-dimensional profiles and appear in silhouette. The team plies us with crossfades, Dutch angles and even superimposed clocks that seem torn from Hitchcock—a carnival fun-house scene could have been directed by Orson Welles himself.
Manual Cinema operates firmly within the nouveau-retro mode, with Maren Celest's otherworldly songs sounding as though they're emerging from a Victrola rather than the woman sitting stage left. The thing you'll feel most nostalgic for, though, is that time when watching movies filled you with this constantly renewing sense of wonder. It's been a long time since we've experienced craft, image and emotion blended together like this.—Helen Shaw
3LD Art & Technology Center (see Off-Off Broadway). Created by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter. Music by Vegter and Kauffman. Running time: 1hr 5mins. No intermission.
Average User Rating
4 / 5
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For me, the most interesting thing about this innovative show is the intersection of high and low tech. It would be worth seeing twice—the first time concentrating only on what is projected on the screen, the second on the live action and technical activities below. Or perhaps part of the experience is in constantly switching between the illusion and the technique. The primitive art of shadow puppetry, combined with the highly atmospheric live cello performance and a singer who sounded like Billie Holiday’s ghost, effectively evoked a surreal dream state, but the show didn’t convincingly express the horror of aging and death, perhaps due to the youth of the company.