Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Einstein on the Beach

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
There must be a God. Otherwise how would Robert Wilson get people to stop what they are doing to do nothing? Robert Wilson is like one of those guys who gets sick of city life and heads upstate where the pace is supposed to be slower. The classic Wilson style is to slow things down. For instance, his Berliner Ensemble production of The Three Penny Opera at BAM last year was Brecht at one quarter tempo. Einstein on the Beach had its first iteration at the Met back in ’76;  we are witnessing the classic Wilson palette in the current BAM revival in which the Philip Glass score is nestled amidst the freeze framed running figures, the innocence of the child mind (in this case a child cantilevered over the action and throwing paper planes), the Ebonics, in the form of a black judge who refers to Kalamazoooooooo, and the endless repetition of jibber jabber that makes sense and nonsense. There’s the famed narration written by Lucinda Childs,  “you know I was in a prematurely air conditioned supermarket and there were all the aisles and all these bathing caps you could buy with Fourth of July plumes on them,” or another that might sound familiar to ‘60’s vets “Harry Harrison from 6 to l0, Ron Lundy 10-2, Dan Ingram…” All of these repeated again and again. Einstein really only appears three times as a white haired violin soloist (played by the renowned violinist Jennifer Koh), as a young man on a train and the child throwing a paper plane, but Wilson’s style is relativity. To get slow motion in film you have to speed things up shooting more than 24 frames per second. On the stage repetition has a similar effect.  By repeating the same actions and language again and again, Wilson creates the impression of stasis (no matter how fast you repeat things or how insistent Glass’s score), in such a way that the audience’s pulse rate comes down. As he does this, the hands of a clock, projected onto one of the scrims, literally start to go backwards. You yawn, you get antsy and start wondering if Wilson and Glass aren’t pied pipers directing a great production of Emperor’s New Clothes, if they hasn’t Tartuffed you, if Wilson's tableaux vivants aren’t really tableau mordants. But you can’t stop thinking about what you’ve seen. The emperor may have lost his clothes, but he’s still finely attired in ideas.

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