Before Your Very Eyes
Before Your Very Eyes: Theater review by Helen Shaw
The sweetly diffident metatheatrical wizards of Gob Squad excel at slipping away from the limelight. Occasionally, as in Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good), they talk audience members into becoming Warholian anti-actors in their stead; other times, they’ve used city passersby to multiply their ranks, as they did in the live-edited film Super Night Shot. But in the wistful Before Your Very Eyes, the company members vanish entirely—evaporating into the project structure and letting a different generation have a go.
This young company (you see either Team One or Team A) is composed of seven New Yorkers ages 9 to 14, a precocious and energetic gaggle. They perform in a playroom, walled-in completely by two-way mirrors, so the kids romp and vamp without self-consciousness, whether playing cards or playing at adulthood. (The audience, it should be noted, can’t stop kvelling at how adorable they are, which might indeed be distracting.)
A large electronic sign overhead instructs the kids to “grow up” so that we can see the process, which seems like an impossible task—until they start interacting with videos of themselves, shot “long ago,” when they were merely 11. Before Your Very Eyes concerns itself with speed and time and death; it does so even before it asks the children to pretend to be teenagers (“Now I can have sex and not get pregnant. Now I can have sex and get pregnant”) or adults (“Have a conversation about gentrification”).
Parts of this are heartbreaking, like the section in which chubby-cheeked Charlotte Beede asks her future self, via video, if she’s still best friends with Buffy, a Super Ball toy with googly eyes. Older, live-action Charlotte rolls her eyes. (It looks bad for Buffy.) Yet the more the children “grow,” the more we see the makers’ concerns at the work’s heart. The children, or perhaps the dictatorial LED sign, seem preoccupied with the dissatisfaction of adulthood, the promises unmet and the narrowing concerns of middle age. You may find yourself seeing a certain falsity slipping in; the kids will be worried about very different things in 30 years. Gob Squad is poking fun at its own milieu here, and that self-critique fits poorly on these small shoulders.
What fits better is exuberance and clarity, both of which are in full supply during the dance numbers (“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen is a winner) and the video interviews that the kids conduct with themselves. They’re all baby-veterans of a media age, so Miles Sherr-Garcia already has his Letterman-esque deadpan down; poised Simone Mindolovich seems to be 13-going-on-president; Keanu Jacobs radiates the calm of man six times his age. It’s a relief to see them leap into view on a video screen at the piece’s end, where we can see them boogying down like kids who don’t care if anyone is watching. These days, the sense you’re not on camera is the last perquisite of innocence, and this show—warmly, with affection—eases it away from them.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). Created by Gob Squad. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.