by: Rudy Gerson
In the beginning there was blackness. Next came light. Then the trees, the birds and the bees, and humans eventually arrived. Language developed and civilization born. We are nothing more than cosmic fairytales dancing in the dark. Answers to the questions ‘why?’ and ‘what for?’ are myths evasive as water flowing through grasping hands.
These are themes found in philosophical volumes covering the history of ideas, not those of the theater. Nevertheless, French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort have devised an unpretentious meditation on these supreme questions of existence that’s simultaneously sobering as it is whimsical currently part of the Under the Radar Festival.
Lights pulse in time with a beating heart, and slowly they rise to reveal a bare stage. Four people sit on the floor. Not quite humans — who have the capacity for self-conscious thought and speech — and not quite animals, these four are manipulating lightboards that rest on their laps. The switches are flipped with a mundane regularity as if they will continue to commit this act for the rest of eternity.
Casually, one of the characters stands and flips a switch and sees his current thought projected onto the back wall. Like the coincidental nature of evolution, decisions are made in inncocent curiousity, as the four performers — Antoine Defoort, Arnaud Boulogne, Ondine Cloez, Sébastien Vial — wish to construct a world of predictable rules, order, and purpose. In that way, they are not so different from you and I.
Except, these are persons reborn — hyper-logical explorers situated out of space and time who learn they can communicate their thoughts via text on the wall, and once they realize their seperate individual consciousness, their awarenss grows ever so.
Germinal crafts a story around human consciousness, ideas, and manages to present high-brow ideas without pretense or pompous. The show is a delightful exploration into metacognition, cause and effect, and the evolution of abstraction. After a pick ax finds its way into the hands of matter-of-fact Ondine, the four discover sound. Naturally, they experiment with photentic utterances until (miraculously), they speak perfect French.
To follow they learn dialogue, communion, debate, and argument. While Germinal is admittedly ambitious, the whole affair feels perfectly incidental. Stuck on a stage in a theater surrounded by walls to be discovered, floorboards to be excavated, and language to be invented, actors explored the space, as if nothing was evident.
Hats off to technical conceptual artist Maël Teillant. The four ‘discover’ a computer, microphone, sound equipment, and a guitar that adds technical novelty to the blank space dynamism.
Performances part of Under the Radar Festival 2016 run at The Public Theater from Saturday, January 9th through Sunday, January 17th. Running Time: 80 minutes. Tickets are $25.00 for general admission. www.publictheater.org
Photo by Alain Rico