New York Theatre Workshop. Based on the stories of Luigi Pirandello and the film Kaos by the Taviani Brothers. Dir. Martha Clarke. With ensemble cast.

GOING POSTAL Sophie Bortolussi, left, has a letter to deliver.

GOING POSTAL Sophie Bortolussi, left, has a letter to deliver. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Over the last few years, director-choreographer Martha Clarke has been creating an alternative vision of the fin de sicle experience the world over. First there was Vienna: Lusthaus (Revisited), with its sensual, pre-Freudian neurotics. Belle Epoque threw up its skirts with a portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec in Paris around the same time. Now Clarke turns her painterly eye on Sicily circa 1890 in Kaos, an ethnographic mood piece about dirt-poor Italian peasants that mixes dance, folklore and ritual in an evocative, if wanly theatrical, setting.

That Clarke finds the clothes, homes and music of her subjects fascinating is clear, but she and her collaborators (including Italian dramaturg Giovanni Papotta and playwright Frank Pugliese) only manage to arrange them in a picturesque diorama. The text, broken up into alternating episodes, was adapted from three gnomic, gloomy short stories by Luigi Pirandello. While we generally know the writer from his proto-postmodern dramas, here he focuses on the hard lives of the Sicilian peasants he grew up around. Death, madness and poverty in a near-medieval caste setting are relieved by the odd burst of dance or song.

Clarke and her expert designers Scott Pask (sets) and Christopher Akerlind (lights) establish a gorgeous, severe environment for the mostly Italian performers, but she doesn’t know when to focus on the narrative and when to let the dance and music transport us to a more mysterious realm. Not helping matters is the unnecessary decision to have everything played in Italian, with surtitles projected on a wall. The result is an attractive but baffling mlange of anthropological detachment and touristic voyeurism. In the end, Kaos is not without form, but it is rather void. — David Cote