Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Bigger (the Art), the Better

April 09, 2009

Photo: Mark Tusk/Big Art Group 2008

One of the most salient features of the manic are their charm and ability to sweep up those around them into the fervent, if uncontrolled, good mood even when things are falling apart. Thus it is no surprise that SOS the new performance piece from Caden Mason and Jemma Nelson’s Big Art Group that opened at REDCAT downtown yesterday is perpetually charming and very funny. This is a return visit from the ensemble who appeared a few years back in the same venue with a piece entitled Flicker, and now with another very enjoyable oddity that will travel next to San Francisco. SOS is also nearly three sheets to the wind in its unbridled speed and intensity. Like much of the troupe’s work over the last decade, the work is first and foremost a cultural critique and in particular one that concerns the ways media fit into that culture. The primary tactic involves what the group calls a Real-Time Film technique where the live performance of the cast is shot with a number of fixed cameras and simultaneously projected on a number of screens around the theater. Forced perspective and other decidedly low tech methods are used to recreate the feel of edited video and various camera shots. The point is not always authenticity, but more a sense of disorientation or what Mason, Nelson and their colleagues refer to as being "forced to choose". Images are simultaneously available in a number of formats and its up to the audience to assimilate them or not. Needless to say these choices have implications in terms of meaning and provide some of what the group consider the "transgressive" nature of their work.

There are several quasi-narratives unfolding in alternating vignettes in SOS. The first concerns a group of cartoon animals adrift in the woods in a horror movie knock-off. Self-mounted cameras are used by all the cast members to generate a Blair Witch-sort of experience in these sequences. Meanwhile, a group of “terrorists” operate a public access TV show called "Realness" in which the rebels intend to become pregnant with ghost babies and start a revolution from a landfill ...or something like that. The third segment involves a pair of brand-obsessed vacuous teens having a rapid fire conversation about their consumption which is both filling and emptying their lives. Sound confusing? Oh, yeah. But it’s also highly amusing with its breakneck riffs on just about anything and everything you can name. All five of the male cast members (there’s also one woman) appear in drag throughout and the sheer feminine exuberance soon blurs the gender lines in the work. Slowly things escalate as the sort-of narratives intersect and eventually the landfill becomes ground zero for the delivery of a huge mutant airblown inflatable holiday lawn ornament to a troupe now encased in body-covering carapaces of neon colored interlocking balloons. It’s a striking image and one filled with such over-the-top energy you can’t help but smile. And all in under an hour. I'm not sure if SOS is brilliant, but it's hard not to look at and be drawn in which makes it better than most performance so if you can fit it in this Easter weekend, I highly recommend it. SOS runs through and including Sunday.


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