By Joel Benjamin
It is astounding that L’Immédiat by Camille Boitel was actually part of the Tilt Kids Festival at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. There were elements of this show that were far too dark and violent for children, although it is easy to see that some of the rough-housing and collapsing scenery could cause a child to giggle nervously.
Beginning with probably the most pretentious, incomprehensible program notes ever written (taking hundreds of words to state the obvious: what we were about to see is happening right now), L’Immédiat, itself, was an equally uneasy, pretentious combination of Cirque du Soleil, Vaudeville, Burlesque, the Three Stooges, grand guignol, with a touch of Samuel Beckett’s pessimism thrown in for good measure. It was a festival of violence, chaos, annoyingly repeated with little variation: if it wasn’t a pile of cartons knocking down a performer, it was a light fixture or a collapsing piece of furniture. If a body part wasn’t caught in a bureau drawer, it was threatened by a performer swinging perilously close on a loose curtain.
Only the performances of its monumentally agile, inexhaustible and gung-ho cast—who appeared to be constantly taking their lives in their hands—inspired admiration. Clearly all this anarchic pandemonium had to be rehearsed to split-second perfection, but that didn’t dilute the dark, violent nature of the mise en scène.
The opening few minutes of L’Immédiat were actually promising, taking what seemed to be a surreal look at everyday people menaced at every turn by furniture that turned on them and walls that collapsed upon them. The suggestion of a philosophy or a guiding point of view was quickly obliterated by the grotesquely repeated sisyphean cycle of devastation-clean up-more devastation-more clean up. (The only laugh I got out of this was imagining what it would be like to be its stage manager responsible for re-constituting the set for each performance.)
There was nothing avant-garde about L’Immédiat despite its exotic Gallic pedigree. Every gimmick, from near missed decapitations to rolling screens behind which actors appeared and disappeared to the Stooge-like beatings inflicted at one point on all the cast members were stolen from far better source materials.
Unlike the Stooges’ violence, which was clearly choreographed for maximum effect with least damage, the beatings here were simply ugly: the woman (whom I assume to be Ms. Boitel, herself) used her fists, pieces of furniture and props to hurt the other cast members (who realistically yelped in pain), climaxing her violent fit by trouncing a prone dancer with her feet, seemingly breaking one of his legs.
The monumentally complex set was credited to the company “with the help of” Jérémie Bonoit Finker, Thomas de Broissia and Martin Gautron. The lighting and the sound environment—both uncredited—were astoundingly complex.
For the record, the L’Immédiat troupe consisted of: Ms. Boitel, Marine Broise, Aldo Thomas, Pascal Le Corre, Thomas de Broissia, Marion Lefèbvre and Jacques Benoit Dardant, all of them adept and daring.
The level of childish—not childlike!—self-indulgence was irritating and unproductive. With these resources at her command, Ms. Boitel might have mined the darkness that looms over all of us for some meaning. As it was, all that could be taken away from this show was sympathy for the performers who were probably nursing their bruises before enjoying a much-deserved night on the town in the Big Apple, which, after the constant dangers of L’Immédiat, would appear to be the safest place on earth.
L’Immédiat by Camille Boitel (March 11-13, 2016)
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit www.nyuskirball.org
Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission
Photos: Ian Douglas