Under the Radar: L'Effet de Serge

Special effects.

  • WIRE WE HERE Vourc'h sets off one of his mini spectacles.

WIRE WE HERE Vourc'h sets off one of his mini spectacles.

Time Out Ratings :

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

It may be that the title of Vivarium Studio’s charming piece of rigorous whimsy, L’Effet de Serge (“Serge’s Effect”), refers not to the main character’s juxtapositions of music and light, but to his personal impact on people around him. This lanky, sad-faced clown (Vourc’h, epitomizing Gallic nonchalance) seems to make his guests vaguely uncomfortable. Serge inspires awkward silence or strained small talk. Hosting a weekly series of events in his unfurnished rec room, he stands there and stares, a wan smile playing on his thin lips. You don’t know if Serge is going to say something profoundly wise or just lock you in his basement dungeon.

The artist as social misfit and alchemizer of everyday objects is one theme of Philippe Quesne’s technically ingenious and richly atmospheric French import. After gracing several world festivals, this 80-minute slice of behavioral comedy and low-tech spectacle comes as a gust of fresh air to New Yorkers tired of slick multimedia tricks. Quesne’s achievement is to put his subjects under a humane microscope. Even though the perfectly realistic set spins an illusion, part of the pleasure is watching the director manipulate the reality like an exceptionally empathetic scientist.

A latter-day Situationist let loose in FAO Schwarz, Serge tinkers in his lonely house, finding the perfect combinations of toys and classical music to beguile his friends (locally cast actors, clearly instructed to underplay). Thus we get “Ride of the Valkyries” accompanied by blinking car headlights, John Cage percussion with a laser light show and Handel as the soundtrack for a remote-control paper bag that zooms across the carpet. After each effect, Serge’s guests are politely approving, but we in the outer audience register our enjoyment much louder.—David Cote

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3LD Art & Technology Center. Conceived, designed and directed by Philippe Quesne. With Gatan Vourc’h. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.