Ludic Proxy

Theater, Drama
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Ludic Proxy: Theater review by Helen Shaw

We can almost always count on the Play Company. Producers Kate Loewald and Lauren Weigel are the rare leaders who gravitate to international work, and they usually burnish their selections to a flattering sheen. But with the sleepy Ludic Proxy they have taken several risks, both in making their first-ever commission for an original work, and in asking the relatively inexperienced playwright to direct. Here neither gamble pays off: There are moments in Proxy that seem barely better than a college production.

Aya Ogawa names her ambitious, trilingual apocalyptic triptych after the déjà vu experienced by video-game players when they encounter a familiar location in the real world. The sensation—a paradoxically disorienting sense of orientation—inspired Ogawa to braid game-playing into her scenes, attempting to disconcert us—or at least to involve us. The play seems interested in the emotions evoked by gaming: terror, agitation, regret at choices not taken, and the weird charge we get from rehearsing the end of the world over and over. But while it points at these feelings, Proxy fails at holding on to our interest. Despite its formal adventurousness, Proxy's failure is due to an old-fashioned, thoroughly analog problem. The show's not good.

All three parts deal with nuclear fallout: past (Chernobyl), present (Fukushima) and future (“New” Manhattan). In the first act, Russian émigré Nina (Jackie Katzman) watches a pair of Brooklyn teenagers playing a game set in a virtual town, which turns out to be based on her own abandoned, radioactive home. Nina's Russian-language reminiscences (her past is apparently full of overacting) cross-fade into the game itself; the performers send cameras through an exquisitely made miniature interior, letting us eaves-watch on their first-person–shooter perspective. The teen language is painful, Nina's moping is faux lyrical, and, worst of all, Ogawa shoehorns in a sophomoric Chekhov allusion. In a rare inversion, the technical element (video and light designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew does heroic work) carries more emotional weight than the text.

In the quieter, better second act, the audience votes on the direction the scene will go, holding up numbers to make our choices and turning a family emergency into a kind of primitive text-adventure game. In an apartment near the devastated Fukushima power plant, two women turn to us for direction: Should Maho (Saori Tsukada) leave her pregnant sister Maki (Yuki Kawahisa) or force her to evacuate? Here the show leans, gratefully, on two marvelous actors. Kawahisa's stunned inaction and Tsukada's icy mystery never admit a single false note, all despite stopping every few sentences to let us weigh in. The scene, written in Japanese, has no extra flourishes, no monologues about love or survival or Chekhov. This is Ogawa at her most poignant—and if the choose-their-adventure elements seem silly, at least they force her to keep the text to an elegant minimum.

The less said about the third act, the better. We're in the future; technician Trepple (an overmatched Ayesha Jordan) wants to visit the surface of our devastated earth; it's not going to end well. The dramatic elements now seem de rigueur from a thousand experimental plays: On cue there's (1) a tableau with lots of fog, (2) past-and-present actors mingling and (3) a song all sung together. Here Ogawa's least dependable instincts as a director and writer combine, and you can hear the play fraying in her hands. It may not be a pleasant sound, but it is, in some strange way, a heartening one. The sound of a play failing is also the sound of the theater maker learning—and given the ambition Ogawa displays in this hectic, unhandsome assemblage, you feel this may be the one instance in which the fallout from a disaster might make the earth more fertile later on.—Helen Shaw

Walkerspace (see Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Aya Ogawa. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

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Event website: http://playco.org
Event phone: 866-811-4111
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