Adrienne Truscott’s they will use the highways begins, and I’m instantly smitten. The disembodied head of David Neumann, spouting French intellectual gobbledygook, is projected onto Truscott’s bared belly, her pubic hair his neat little goatee. When he puts a lit cigarette in his mouth, I want to yell, “Careful, there!” Neumann makes a great virtual companion; if Truscott tires of him, she can pull her shirt down and her pants up and switch off the projector. How convenient is that?
they will use the highways premiered at P.S. 122 last spring and returned during P.S. 122’s Winter Dance Festival. Its wayward atmosphere—that of some slightly weird, very smart kids putting on a show—suits the funky former elementary school. Big buildups lead to small effects, scenes pop out as if the order of events had been determined by pulling scraps of paper out of hats, and trained dancers mingle companionably with the not-so-trained. It’s not surprising to learn that a trip along the Jersey turnpike prompted the piece. Places and things and people whiz by a car window, forever enigmas, disappearing in a daze of speed and thoughts of destination.
Truscott—half of the neo-vaudeville duo the Wau Wau sisters and a founding member of Sara East Johnson’s Lava—has created an assemblage of events that mix the everyday with the wacky, the skilled with the rough and-tumble. Here’s how we learn about the road-trip metaphor. From within a blue paper mound a voice asks, “Would you like to see my bric-a-brac?” Seconds later, Neal Medlyn crashes out of the nest wearing a shiny blue unitard (he subs for Natalie Agee in this scene on certain nights) and tapes a torn piece of paper to one of the room’s columns. This becomes the screen for videos taken from within a moving car (occasionally unexpected objects hover outside its window).
Little that happens onstage demonstrates cause and effect. Neumann and Carmine Covelli, wearing gray track suits and noisy gray shoes, race out of the theater and back several times. Medlyn returns wearing a tight-fitting suit and glasses, hurls himself to the floor, wriggles his hips, spins, and attempts a split-second pole dance. At one point, the dressing-room door at the back swings open on a crowded party in progress, with music, a mirror ball, and costumed lovelies (we see this for about five seconds before the door closes). Ours not to question why Elizabeth Merriwether reads a book about famous American ships, or why Merriwether, Dickie Dibella, and Kristin Slaysman do stuff with chairs, or why people don T-shirts with the writing on them backward (reflections in a rear view mirror?). Many sights—like that through the opened bathroom door of Dibella sitting on the toilet smoking—are taken in as if on the fly.
There are more sustained passages, including a long dance sequence for Truscott, Neumann, Covelli, and Medlyn in which pedestrian moves and big clunky steps and jumps are groomed into orderly traffic patterns. Neumann makes a second appearance on Truscott’s belly—this time he’s singing karaoke with John Denver; Truscott produces a mic and takes over: “You fill up my seeeeenses. . . .” In an oddly affecting scene, the car in the video seems to have parked, and through the blur of passing traffic, we see Mauri Walton dancing by herself on the grassy median. She’s worth stopping for, but her image is revealed only intermittently, the immediate present obscured by the rush toward the future.