Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 1999
For those of you who haven’t already been to see for yourself – Mass MoCA lives!!! There is really a Museum there folks, and it is a sight to see. Just walking in the gates was an opening night for me – one that almost eclipsed what went on on the stage of the Hunter Center a little later.
Almost, but not quite. I was apprehensive about covering “Jet Lag” because I was not quite sure it was going to be theatre. And it wasn’t, in the strict textbook definition of the word, but it was also not film, sound art, performance art, etc. It resembled theatre more than any of the other arts with strict textbook definitions. I suppose the word for it now (until we come up with a better one) is “multimedia”. The program bills it as “a cross-media project developed collaboratively by the Builders Association and Diller + Scofidio”. The MoCA brochure said it “merges theater, new technologies, and architecture in a visually stunning production.” Yes, but can you dance to it?
In theatrical parlance (a vocabulary created by the ancient Greeks a millennia or two ago) “Jet Lag” was two one-act plays presented together without an intermission. Both claim to be based on real events that took place about 30 years ago – just before the “information age” dawned. The over-all theme was that of time and space. How does where we are (or where we perceive that we are) and what time it is (or what time we want it to be) define us and sustain us as human beings?
In the first part of the show a lone sailor, Roger Dearborn (Jeff Webster), convinces the country, via the media of radio and television, that he is successfully sailing around the world. In fact, he is meandering aimlessly about the Atlantic Ocean.
Set in the late 1960’s, Roger has a camera loaned by a local TV station on board ship so that he can film daily log entries which the station will air when he completes his voyage. The audience saw him sitting in front of the camera with a film of rolling seas projected on a small screen behind him. The actor lurched and rolled, the small screen heaved and tossed. When water was needed the actor spritzed his face with a plant mister – the kind you buy at Wal-Mart for 99 cents. On the large screen at the back of the stage we saw the result of that film – a brave sailor alone on the high seas.
To see the illusion and its creation simutaneously was fascinating, and also the point of the story. Because technology in 1969 did not allow the audience to see the creation but only the illusion, Dearborn was able to successfully perpetrate his hoax for several months. When he could sustain the illusion no longer, he apparently died. Only his boat was found.
The second half of the show was about a grandmother, Doris Schwartz (Ann Carlson), who kidnapped her 14 year old grandson Lincoln (Dominique Dibbell) from his father because of a disagreement over the boy’s upbringing and his mental stability. Doris and Lincoln literally remained suspended in time and space as they spent month after month flying back and forth continually from New York to Paris. In the end the boy chooses to return to his father, and his grandmother becomes the first person ever to die of jet lag.
The multimedia effects in this piece were spectacular. The sound of the jets taking off and landing literally shook the theatre. The use of computer animation on the large screen behind the actors convinced you that they were really on board a plane, on a moving walkway, or ascending an escalator. I lead a very sheltered life and those of you who have been to major theme parks or I-Max theatres will probably tell me that such illusions are commonplace – even out-dated – but they looked pretty darned good to me.
But my favorite illusion was perpetrated by Dibbell as Lincoln Schwartz. Using grown women to play young boys is an ancient and honorable theatrical convention, and yet it seldom really works. I was never fooled by Mary Martin as Peter Pan. I was completely taken in by Dibbell. She wasn’t heavily disguised – she was dressed the way my teen and pre-teen sons dress in baggy pants and floppy shirts. Her hair is cut in a short and attractive but not butch style. She wore a baseball hat and a pair of eyeglasses. When she took the latter off and smiled for her bow she turned back into an attractive woman. But the entire time she was in character nothing betrayed her true age and sex. Now that is theatre.
In closing, let me say a few words about the Hunter Center. It is BIG, as is the movie screen that graces the back wall of the stage area. The seats are comfy, the aisles and the space between the rows are ample. The acoustics seemed good. The sight lines are excellent. The Hunter family has bestowed a state of the art performance space on north Berkshire. Thank you! I look forward to attending many more productions there.
For information on future programs at Mass MoCA please call 413-664-4481.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999