You don’t have to understand a performance to like it. Downtown theater has a proud tradition of artists who intentionally defy our desire for sense — say, Richard Foreman — urging us to pay attention to images and sounds: to the moment rather than the plot.
But abstract theater needs internal logic, some propelling force that makes you want to keep watching. Which is, unfortunately, what’s missing from Before You Get Too Far Afield, a new operetta written and directed by Cara Scarmack and now playing at Jack. Billed as a meditation on imprisonment of different kinds and influenced by modernists like the Futurists and Ezra Pound, Afield is an array of bafflingly discontinuous scenes and songs, performed ensemble-style by Priscilla Holbrook, Katie Proulx, and Cassandra Weston. Occasionally we encounter recognizable situations: a bus stop, a chicken factory. We hear rumblings about a war happening somewhere. (When the performers don gas masks, it feels close.)
Mostly, though, the piece skims between sequences with little overt connection. There are inexplicable funny accents, piles of odd props, and dangling umbrellas. Sometimes the performers play insects, other times headless men. They sing lovely folk-style ditties, but the songs are too wispy to provide substance. I was eager to go on Scarmack’s journey — but she was already a little too far afield.
Before You Get Too Far Afield
Written and directed by Cara Scarmack
505-1/2 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn