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of the Gray,
9-25, 2018 (closed)
Playwright/director Elia Schneider's "Citizens of the Gray or The Dark Thing that Sleeps Inside Me" debuted at Theater for the New City November 9 to 25, 2018. The piece is a visually arresting series of short vignettes with a decidedly dark and surreal approach.
The company appears on a stage covered with sand, costumed
in a variety of all black and grey garments that look as though fished
from a dumpster - tattered cocktail dresses, worn out suits,army boots,
bare feet, bizarre hats, and all with a four-digit number attached
to their backs. With split-second timing and robust determination,
these bizarre creatures act out their short stories. Each vignette
is carefully choreographed, composed of natural movement rather than
formal dance, and there was occasional taped dialogue drawn from poets,
including Sylvia Plath, and original music by Argentine composer Osvaldo
Impeccably rehearsed and performed, the one-hour presentation
moves along at breakneck speed. In an interesting Q&A session
after the show, Schneider explains to the audience that, while all
the scenes have a theme, viewers might not "get it' or connect
with every scene or situation. I was reminded of a few
of Pina Bausch's works which never identified the characters but invited
the audience to interpret the people and their actions as they wished.
The scenes centered around a few subjects: control,
abuse, injustice were high on the list. To cite a few
of the scenes: Four men with briefcases, standing across the
front of the stage, mime typing furiously on computers while behind
them, four mothers with baby dolls scream as a net is thrown over
them. In a later scene, the four women stand in front working
comfortably and efficiently on the computers, while the men, lined
up in the back with the babies, are clueless as to how to attend to
the infants. They hold the dolls in all the wrong positions;
one insists on throwing his up in the air again and again despite
the baby crying on tape. An easy one to interpret!
Other scenes depicted rape and abuse of women, and men
controlling women as though they were marionettes. In
another scene a woman is raped and then joined by other women who
attack the attacker and pull him offstage. In another
scene a woman doles out portions of soup to the hungry group.
They eat until someone calls out "stop," and resume when
ordered to do so. A game show finds the excited crowd willing
to play Russian Roulette in order to try to win prizes. When
one unlucky woman actually kills herself, the unconcerned crowd simply
Despite the grim visuals and situations, I found the
production original, most entertaining and, is does it sound strange
to say, fun? The Company performs with a total and endearing
commitment to the work and very clearly makes many important and topical
points in a non-threatening and entertaining way.
The originality of Ms. Schneider's body of work makes it resist categorization. Her imagery is sometimes referred to as Dali-esque and her nonliteral, surrealist commentary often touches on holocaust, diaspora and totalitarianism. Kafka-esque themes have abounded in previous works.
Elia K. Schneider is the director; Joseph Novoa the
producer and lighting designer; Ivana Profeta is the costume designer;
Tony Duran is the choreographer. Performers are Juliana
Betancourth, Barbara Blanck, Corinna Camero, Cristina Castillo, Hasiff
Fadul, Mariana Lopez, Gustavo Ramirez, Oscar Gio Ramirez, Siumara
Samayoa, and Hector Vera, all incidentally from Mexico and South America. The
ensemble all met in The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater
in Los Angeles, where Schneider is a faculty member. I hope
that Theater for the New City welcomes the group back with another
of its unique presentations.
See related coverage by Larry Littany Litt.
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