Here today, gone tomorrow: Pan Pan + Brooklyn Babylon
Wed Nov 16 2011
Photograph: Ros Kavanaugh
It's a bafflement, really, that a group as accomplished as Pan Pan (the same irreverently intellectual Irish company that rocked our faces off with Oedipus Loves You) would sneak in for a quick microrun at NYU. Four days seems like a tiny stint for a company that has traveled so far, and I can only assume there's an Interpol warrant out ("literary mischief" or "silliness aforethought," perhaps?) that keeps it on the move. Still, for those of us who did get to see its Hamlet deconstruction, The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, Pan Pan was anything but rushed.
Director Gavin Quinn seems to have made a list of all the things you're not supposed to put onstage and then deliberately checked each one of them off. There are children (a gaggle of local highschoolers cameo as the traveling players), animals (a massive Great Dane romps all over the place, embodying a pun and chasing a rubber skull) and an utter disregard for the "unplayability" of the central role. The bulk of the first act watches as three actors audition to play Hamlet, and we head into intermission having only just chosen (by audience vote) which of the sweet princes will be having a good night.
The second act, sadly, cannot maintain the brio of the first: We're suddenly within a highly abbreviated Hamlet, and despite a series of handsome images (ranks of trash cans, a massive banner displaying the dog's head), the show loses some of its first-act verve. The first act isn't simply merriment, though. Starting with a shatteringly effective lecture by the Academic (L. Jay Oliva), the play dares to talk about Shakespeare's own despair and the destabilizing elements that lurk within the text. It should be dry; it should seem alienating. And yet in this first act, a precisely choreographed combination of borrowed erudition and self-generated mayhem (that darling, ungovernable dog) turns Quinn and company's tribute into something freshly full of grief.
Another one from the if-you-blinked-you-missed-it department: The fantastic Brooklyn Babylon played at BAM this past weekend. This one was technically a musical performance, but anyone who has heard Darcy James Argue's big-band jazz compositions knows that his 18-piece ensemble, the Secret Society, shouts at you more than a stage full of Hamlets. A massive, brass-heavy, sax-buoyant sound moves out of the group like a living wall, interfering with our cardial tissues as it rages over us.
Full disclosure: The director, Isaac Butler, is a friend, and so if I tell you that he did elegant work in managing the collaboration between Argue's symphonic brouhaha and graphic artist Danijel Zezelj's retro projections, you can perhaps doubt my word. You might want to go here, though, and listen to some samples. Then after you pick yourself up off the floor—I can still hear one particular trombone scream even as I sit here—you can go back to trusting me again.