on a Gray Beach ” is one of the most visually striking theater pieces I’ve seen
in a long time. We’re presented with highly sophisticated absurdist humor
combined with wink and nod Kafkaesque literary references.“Judgment on a Gray Beach”
Developed and directed by Elia Schneider
La Mama ETC, Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East Fourth St, NYCMarch 6-15, 2015
Reviewed March 7, 2015 by Larry Litt
The majority of my deeply focused attention was spent in awe watching a mostly mimed play by actors in highly regimented direction playing out an all too common dance of doom. Director Elia Schneider captures Kafka’s whimsical paranoias that peak with his own brand of little ecstasies. Live and recorded music break the trance of highly controlled incarceration for both the audience and the actors.
The almost barren stage is electrified with blinding light reminiscent of late Winter afternoons when the cold sun is focusing on us, making us long for the nostalgic memories of happier summer days. Lighting designer Joseph Novoa flashes light so bright and pointed
that we become two sided, shining and shade, glowing day into ominous night, simple goodness confronting looming omnipresent evil. We can turn either way hopefully to escape our fates or spin interminably, not making a commitment to a path. But of course outside prison the sun always goes down. These formidable beams of light in this hard edge prison of surreal dreams stay on permanently. There’s no escaping the harsh glare of surveillance in this human zoo.
Joel Daavid’s set design forced me via the acting ensemble into a psychic transportation to a beachfront prison for inappropriately costumed characters. The country that holds them captive is either too poor for standard uniforms or likes to see beautiful young women wearing almost nothing as they live, work and play their days and night in this place where nothing is allowed except what is ruled. Numbers are tattooed on their shirts or bare backs. Wearing costumes seems to pass the time in detention as do pop/rock song musical interludes.
Only “K” the newly arrested citizen is without a number or direction. He wanders into the courtyard of light beams like a small boy lost in a wild bar filled with sad women. They don’t even notice him. He’s nobody until he’s either incarcerated or free. Judgment is limbo on the Gray Beach. Judgment is anxiety and confrontation with the forces of ultimate uncaring power. His dance leads to the great sacrifice for the state and his soul. But even that is perverted by the voices of authority. It’s the topical irony and eternal comedy of frustrated fascism affecting the feckless individual.
The ensemble company, with admirable, understated acting and movement skills, endeared me to their plight. I cared about their horrors and pleasures. Especially Daniela Mandoki, the ‘Accordian Girl’ who sent shivers down my spine with her deadpan acting, singing voice and musicianship.
Daniel Damuzi as “K” and Will Rhodes as The Judge gave well matched comic performances in their dance of judgment.
This normally somber political topic and its infinite tragic variations is so wildly, enthusiastically acted and directed that I left the theater with a huge grin. Normally I’d be grudgingly depressed by yet another reminder of the omniscient, repressive powers that lurk in the dark holes of cruel bureaucratic governments. Instead Elia Schneider made me laugh and think differently about the candidly disorganized human side of that horrendous power. It was well worth my sit down time.