Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gin and… well?; Gin & “It”, Wexner Center, 03/07/10

Reid Farrington's new media/theater piece Gin & "It" came to the Wexner Center last week, after its premier at the Under the Radar Festival in New York in January and before its first full NYC run at PS122 in April-May.  This has a lot of parallels with what I saw in Continuous City last year and, much like Continuous City, I wished I liked it more than I actually did, but it was a hoot, a terrifically entertaining chunk of old theater magic using extremely sophisticated video projection with Noises Off timing and screwball wit.

The piece tries to recreate (in a more abstract way) the methods Hitchcock used in his adaptation of Rope, using tricks to make the film appear as though it was all shot in one single take, which in turn recreated and abstracted the original play which took place in real time on one set.  Four performers appear as grips and work behind and around the "scenes" including the ever-present trunk which in the film holds a corpse.  

They accomplish this using props but frequently using small, flexible screens or chunks of drywall on wheels to hold the projection, which is also interesting because the more full-frame shots are done on the back of what would normally be part of a backdrop on stage while the dialogue, the taut interpersonal interactions, are done on the individual screens and generally, the projection on those is a cutout with Farley Granger, John Dall, et al against black matte.

The grips' own action tries to mirror what's happening on the screens and this is where the play falters.  Often to make sure the projection is clear, the stage is too dark to tell exactly what's going on.  And when you can tell, often its too obvious, as in the sequence where the price of a cup of coffee one grip bought is the same price as something being mentioned in the film. 

Throughout, there are interesting technical ideas that get used once or twice then discarded (most prominently figures being silhouettes that say “Media Not Found” or a color-test pattern) instead of echoing through the entire piece.  The title Gin & "It" refers to the way Hitchcock and Arthur Laurents worked around homosexuality in the original film (based on Leopold and Loeb) and that's mentioned as an allusion in the program note, but there's less of a homosexual subtext in the play than in the original film, and without that or any other emotional core, it's a fun abstraction about making a demanding, intricate movie but it left me a little unsatisfied.

I can't wait to see what Farrington does next, I hope the Werner Center continues to provide resources and support for this kind of art, but I hope whatever he comes up with next has more of the emotional, visceral bite of the best work of his previous employers The Wooster Group or the video-heavy revival of Sunday in the Park with George I saw a couple of years ago.