This is what people mean when they say, “Experimental Theatre.”
Double Edge Theatre, a troupe that lives and works together on a 100 acre former dairy farm in Massachusetts, is in town at Arena Stage with a show called, “The Grand Parade (Of The 20th Century). It’s a one hour show that, stay with me here for a second, takes viewers on a kind of mash-up history trip from 1900 to 2000 ( so far, so good), “Inspired by Marc Chagall’s (the artist who lived through much of the century) kaleidoscope vision of humanity at play, at war, and at rest."
Still with me? Through movement and sound (I’ll get to sound in a second) the actors, sans dialogue, depict the major historical events, but they mix in some Chagall touchstones from his paintings—like a dude wearing a horse head, for instance. Or a chicken head. And some of the actors swing on the trapeze, or a flying polygon thing, or they bounce through the air with the help of a giant rubber band. Near as I could tell—the airborne stuff seemed to be a take-off (sorry, heh) of some of Chagall’s paintings which feature people suspended in the air. I say “suspended,” because the people in the paintings, of which I am a fan, don’t seem to be flying gracefully—they’re at weird angles and just kind of stuck in the air.
But back to the show: Although somewhat abstract in parts, it’s easy enough to follow. Our actors go from the trenches of WWI ,to the stock market crash, radio days, WWII, Death Camps, Space, JFK, Viet Nam, Disco and so forth.
The choreography is clever—the sheer air traffic control that has to take place with a half dozen or so actors constantly changing clothes or jumping on the swinging things or dancing is admirable. The artistic director of Double Edge Theatre, Stacy Klein said they’d been working on this for two years. Two years!
What did not work for me can best be summed up by quoting Dr. Seuss from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” “Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!”
My eyes loved this show, but my ears were assaulted early and often. Two of the actresses would hit piercing notes that were shrill--just notes, not songs- and, literally, painful to the ear. Champagne glasses must have been breaking at Signature's bar like shot up whiskey bottles in a Cowboy saloon. Dissonance in music is one thing, but “The Grand Parade” was a cacophonous collection of gun fire, over driven sound clips, a band of noisemakers, those ladies with the notes, and—a guy hitting the metal swing polygon thing with a lead pipe. Aaaaagh! The sound of metal hitting metal , if it had significance, still didn’t need to be so loud. Wow, did I just sound like my Dad?
Perhaps I was hypersensitive because the wonderful Kogod Cradle, the smallest of Arena’s three houses, has perfect acoustics. It’s a beautiful house and you can hear a person speak, without a microphone, from the very last row. Here’s hoping they tweak the sound for the remaining performances.
I have some friends who love seeing performances like this that are out of the ordinary, and this is exactly the kind of show I’d recommend they see. I, too, like a challenge now and again, and I applaud the beauty of the movement and the concept. If you are of a like mind, then, by all means, catch this while you can, it’s a very short run. But the only pleasant sounds you’ll hear, I can’t believe I’m saying this, are the sounds of “The Hustle,” during a brief part of the play. No one from my generation would ever have guessed that Disco could be sonic relief, but there it is. Now that’s history re-written.
“The Grand Parade (Of The 20th Century) continues at Arena Stage through Sunday, February 10th. For tickets and more information, please visit: www.arenastage.org