Theater archives

Eternal Tests the Audience’s Mettle


Depending on who you are, Eternal will seem endlessly fascinating or flat-out boring. Director Daniel Fish has recorded two actors (Christina Rouner and Thomas Jay Ryan) on two channels of video, who appear frontally on two different screens, and charged them with repeating the last scene of Michel Gondry’s film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (in which Ryan has a minor role) for two hours with no break, “no matter what happens.” The concept is part theatrical event, part video installation, part endurance test: John Jesurun meets David Levine in Marina Abramovic’s private screening room.

Will the actors become incredibly punchy? Will they get loopy and go up on their lines? How will their version conform to or differ from the filmed version? Most absorbingly, how different will each iteration of this scene be, and how will their inevitable fatigue affect their performance? Is this just a Meisner exercise? These are all questions that, if you’ve ever enjoyed scrutinizing or working with actors, will seize your attention as you answer them in your head for most of the two hours. Eternal provides the audience with a distilled version of watching the same play every night for a month, or choosing among different takes for a film.

Happily, Fish has selected two excellent actors, who reveal to us an elegant buffet of delightful new approaches and rhythms and ways to play off one another as they repeat the scene more than 20 times, from severe giddiness to abject devastation. If it comes off as actor-director inside baseball, that only proves how well Fish knows his audience.