Elijah Green: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Andrew Ondrejcak does things with text, image, performers and music. Does that make him a theater-maker? A performance artist? A sculptor with dancing clay? It shouldn't matter how we categorize his Elijah Green; it should be enough that it's gorgeous. But if you come to the Kitchen expecting narrative clarity, the whole Rabelaisian Gesamtkunstwerk will fall to pieces in your hands.
Ondrejcak mixes two influences to make Green: August Strindberg's 1901 A Dream Play and Pieter Brueghel’s Flemish Renaissance paintings. The former is one of the weirder objects in the theatrical canon: a symbolist “journey play” in which the Hindu god Indra's daughter wanders the earth. In Green's first and last moments, we hear an actual 12-year-old boy named Elijah Green reading versions of A Dream Play's opening and closing scenes. This modern adolescent voice becomes the visiting divinity—a bit aloof, a bit puzzled.
More than a century later, the world is just as grubby and futile as in Strindberg's day. Things smell. There's a fish getting fileted, and characters keep complaining that something reeks of shit. A woman (Yuki Kawahisa) builds a brick wall and moves it, while another figure plays Bingo and a third fellow tapes a broken vase together. Behind them, a white screen high on the wall shows us a constantly changing set of videos, along with the overhead view of the space. Indra may be distracted by YouTube, but at least she is still watching.
Ondrejcak's mise en scène is Brueghel’s busy, swarming crowd, by way of Lars von Trier's Dogville. A grid of white tape on the floor makes the Kitchen's cavernous dark seem somehow blacker, and Ondrejcak arranges his dozen bustling figures evenly across it. The costumes (by Ondrejcak and Alba Clemente) are masterpieces—elaborate rubbish-finery that somehow join filth and ornament into one baroque whole. This curiously static chaos, occasionally organized by a roaming spotlight, forces us to experience Elijah as though it were a landscape. As a naked woman (Tanya Selvaratnam) crawls across the floor wearing a lamp on her back, she could be a lost Hieronymus Bosch figure, trying to get back to her painting.
Time lengthens and suspends, though the show's actually quite brief—just over an hour. The spotlight has only picked a few of the ensemble to focus on: It lingered on Brian Mendes as he worried about the trash-house he had built; the light scrambled to keep up with Eleanor Hullihan as she danced John Jasperse's beautiful choreography. People go by their given names, and even seem to be playing themselves, so downtown eccentric Edgar Oliver is treated with just the right puzzled reverence and Selvaratnam —still crawling triumphantly across the stage—crows that she has “two degrees from Harvard!” The show leaves us wanting more. What was the laundress thinking? Why was that chap in bunny ears? Indra's daughter has missed so much of the good stuff, we think. Elijah, why go so soon?—Helen Shaw
The Kitchen (Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Andrew Ondrejcak. Choreography by John Jasperse. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.