The unblinking eye of technology
Information is power. Technology is power. And we -- you and I -- are the losers. We master the machinery. We acquire knowledge, learn to multitask with cellphone and computer, open the world’s windows with communication devices. We console ourselves by watching Big Brother watch us. But a bigger Big Brother looms, observing all, a multinational trickster gleefully tripping us up. There is simply no escape.
“Super Vision,” the latest dazzling high-tech extravaganza from the Builders Association, which opened Wednesday night at REDCAT, is just such a prison of the high-tech mind. This is the New York company, led by director Marianne Weems, that was responsible, two years ago at REDCAT, for “Alladeen,” a look at how the ubiquitous telephone has become an object of alienation, and virtual reality a realm of loneliness.
The subject of “Super Vision,” which is a collaboration with a collective of visual artists called dBox, is surveillance. Everything is connected. Information is collected and collated. If you buy your ticket to “Super Vision” with a credit card, you may hear your name and zip code announced from the stage, and find that you have been compartmentalized into a certain kind of consumer. Will you be pleased to be noticed, to have your two seconds of fame? Or find it a little creepy?
What is so interesting about Weems’ work is that she is able to function with a certain delicacy in that intersection of glee and creepiness. The glee is in the technology, which she uses better than just about anyone. “Super Vision” is, indeed, a super vision of theater as live video. Reality is changeable, live and virtual at the same time, as actors function against video projections on a wide-screen stage format. A couple of characters are both real and virtual. We see them sitting in front of computer screens, and we see them on the big screen.
Three tales overlap. A yuppie couple tries to stay afloat. John (Harry Sinclair) schemes with false identities, getting credit in his 9-year-old son’s name. A virtual John Jr. (Owen Philip on video) frolics with his Laurie Anderson-like live mother (Kyle deCamp).
An Indian businessman from Uganda (Rizwan Mirza) deals with U.S. passport officials (all played by Joseph Silovsky). A young woman (Tanya Selvaratnam) in New York tries to care for her Sri Lankan grandmother (Moe Angelos) from afar.
A fine tissue of dread pervades everything. John will not succeed in his conceited attempt at redesigning fate, and will run off before he gets caught. All the information technology in the world will not help the grandmother piece her failing mind back together. The traveling businessman cannot fight a system that is suspicious and peppered with false information. Even his fingerprints, if the system so decides, can lie.
All stories, which were written by Constance De Jong (who fashioned the excellent libretto for Philip Glass’ second opera, “Satyagraha”) have a light, humorous touch. The sensation of dread is kept a fraction of an inch under the surface and mostly under control, but it is ready to bubble up at any moment.
The video wizardry, which makes this show a joy to watch, is also handled with an equally deft touch.
It calls attention to itself, because its use is so slick and efficient and brightly innovative (and, it appears, glitch-free). But Weems is most remarkable in creating her own personal interface between technology and traditional theater.
The video serves live theater, not the other way around. Jennifer Tipton and Allen Hahn did the lighting with a theatrical flair for reality not hyperrealism, which is a key component. And the actors are all excellent.
Dread is most obvious in the music and sound design of Dan Dobson. John Jr. is into bird watching, and Hitchcockian bird sounds are meant to frighten us even as we enter the theater. Ditto for thumping electronic low-pitched drones.
Something less trivial for ears would be welcome. But Weems does such a good job in enticing the eyes and toying with the mind, maybe we need clunky music to warn us to be on guard.
Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles
When: 8:30 p.m. today, Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (213) 237-2800
Running time: 1 hour, 9 minutes