Blown Apart

Where does this hand go?

In the Oz books, Dorothy and her chums often encounter tribes with curious habits. Cautiously, a traveler whispers something like, "They look harmless, but . . . stop barking, Toto!!" The people inhabiting Jeremy Wade's . . . and pulled out their hair are not so much harmless as harmed. They can't organize their bodies or their feelings. Motions and emotions are fractured, jolting, akimbo. Smiles flit across their faces, unsure of how to land, or stick there too long. They stagger, stumble, grope, scrabble, jerk, and twitch. Walking a straight line is a challenge. Forming a circle holding hands turns out to be an impossible task.

Wade—former junior-championship swimmer, go-go dancer, club kid, latecomer to the post-postmodern scene—grew up in Maine and now works out of Berlin. The performers, who unstintingly transform themselves into gibbering misfits for him, are all based in Europe. I can only imagine what the rehearsals were like.

For a long time, we watch Leo Renneke make small, increasingly feverish adjustments to his body. Is he trying to speak? Maybe he wants to urinate or vomit. Maybe he itches inside his skin. When Zackes Brustik, Anja Sielaff, Marysia Stoklosa, and Wade jolt onto the stage, they look like school kids to his teacher: He wears long pants and a tie with his short-sleeved white shirt, while the other men's suspendered pants are short, and the women are costumed in white blouses and navy-blue pleated skirts. But no; they absorb him into their damaged cluster.

photo: Dieter Hartwig

They easily topple into hysteria, whether mocking one of their members, toppling into an orgy, snickering in embarrassment, playing inscrutable games, wriggling lustfully, confronting us across the low white wall that pens them into a white space, or backing away in terror when red and blue lights and a grinding noise alter their universe. They spend most of the piece (which runs less than an hour) with their mouths open wide, thin threads of drool eventually running down. Two people angling for a kiss align their gaping lips with difficulty but remain six inches apart. Mostly in accord, they forcibly, and for no discernible reason, subdue Sielaff, while lighting designer Fabian Bleisch turns everything green. After this, Sielaff, her blouse pulled over her head, moans, whimpers, and retches a miserable litany of emotions into a standing mic—noises often recycled in Adam Linson's sound score.

Wade's horrifying study in disorientation and unhinged passions is also both comical and touching—never more so than at the end, when Sielaff, saying "oh" in startled jerks, approaches the sobbing Renneke and, with difficulty, pastes his wrist to her forehead. He stops crying. That small achievement makes her incredibly happy.

 
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