From sex games to mental patients & even a secret in the Menil, savor the dark
Hide and seek, reveal and conceal, withhold and disclose. Can't we look at any work of art as a play between those forces?
Well I can, so come with me on a romp through Houston's art scene, where I explain, ponder, question, and generally dance around this delicate equation.
David Fulton's recent show Abbey Road at New Gallery elegantly posed the question of the relationship between the veil and that which it conceals. Fulton enlists cartographic references of lake and river shorelines, encoding them in the form of a veil. "The veil will always attest to what it attempts to conceal, the forces from without, preserved within, form following form, absences and presence, revelation and concealment, balanced and enduring," Fulton writes in his artist statement.
With Fulton, we start somewhere known and become lost in his ravishing images. The veil pushes forward as a thing in and of itself, larger and more radiant than that which it obscures.
You have to look for Maurizio Cattelan's work - it's hidden within The Menil Collection. Placement is huge for Cattelan, who rearranged the galleries to provide a context for his work. Eventually, you wind up in a large room with only Cattelan's monumental sculpture All, consisting of a single row of bodies hidden under sheets.
David A. Brown takes an opposite approach in his FotoFest show, Trying to Find My Way, opening at Darke Gallery on March 11. Brown's urban kaleidoscopic images look manipulated, but they are not.
"I saw it and I shot it," Brown insists. "Once my eye focused on these complex reflections it was like I gained access to a secret world." They show us what remains hidden from our conscious vision.
Brown discussed his ideas at length with Neuroscientist David Eagleman to more deeply understand the perceptive puzzle going on his work. "He has frozen a moment of our world exactly as it hits our senses, capturing the great flood of raw data that normally goes undergoes unconscious winnowing and discarding," writes Eagleman in his essay. Viewers can revel in Brown's revealing photographs as they show what was there for the taking all along.
Let's hop on down the theatre road to see how these folks manage a little cat and mouse game.
Alfred Hitchcock reigns as the master of concealing evidence from his characters. Who didn't want to alert Grace Kelly to get out of that crazy guy's apartment in Rear Window ? Just in time for this story, the Alley Theatre presents The 39 Steps, adapted from the 1935 thriller by Patrick Barlow, which was loosely based on a novel by John Buchan.
Mark Shanahan, making his Alley directorial debut, is an expert on Hitchcock. He even teaches classes on the legendary filmmaker at Fordam University. "Hitchcock leaves his protagonist (Richard Hannay) in the dark while the clues are all around him," Shanahan says. "Hitchcock is a master of manipulating our emotions."
It's none other than Mr. Memory who holds the key for Hannay. In the end, all is resolved. The hidden revealed.
Wallace Shawn's Our Late Night presented by The Catastrophic Theatre and opening on March 19 at DiverseWorks, was hidden from the public once the play went out of print. This is only the fourth production in the United States. Shawn lets us eavesdrop on a late-night New York party, where sexual adventures are traded like casual conversation. We hear thoughts, stories and fantasies that, under normal circumstances, would remain private and hidden. Unlike Hitchock, there isn't an ounce of withholding in this taboo-free zone.
"The play arrives already unraveled," Jason Nodler, Catastrophic Theatre's artistic director, says.
After reading the play I wondered, Who are these people? "Who is anybody really?" asks Nodler. "I think that's the point of the play, that we are all unknowable."
To emphasize the voyeruistic nature of the play, the set, designed by Greg Dean, consists of a facade of an apartment. We watch the entire play peeking through the window. The actors wear body microphones to amplify what should remain a secret.
Savor the dark
Nobody owns the darkness like playwright Will Eno.
The Flu Season, directed by Matt Huff and now playing at Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company, begins in darkness. We hear Sean Patrick Judge's voice as Prologue, welcoming us into the unknown terrain of Eno. "Let us wreck ourselves in the dark, shiver close to death, slowly, unnoticeable, instead of making such a big production out of it. But I won't. Savor it, the dark."
You don't so much watch an Eno play as you do slip around the ice of Eno's poetic mashup of syntax and broken banter. In The Flu Season, the main characters are simply called Man (Caleb George) and Woman (Jessica Janes) and all we know is that they are residents of a mental hospital. I marvel at how George and Janes manage to remain authentic amidst Eno's derailing verbiage. There also are a loony toon nurse and doctor, played with zany hilarity by Lyndsay Sweeney and Wayne Barnhill. On occasion, they make sense; mostly, they don't.
Another character, Epilogue, played by a disheveled and intense Bobby Haworth, serves as the Prologue's nemesis and counterpoint. Epilogue and Prologue embody that very tension about what is known and what remains obscured as they comment on the play as its happening, setting up scenes, and towards the end, deconstructing them. Epilogue creates while Prologue obscures. There's nothing to hold on to here. "With Eno, the truth emerges between the sentences," says Huff. "It's weird and absurd, but always human."
The characters reflect this relationship. Over and over, Eno will have a character say something that gives us information. It sounds normal, something that a person would actually say. We feel that a human is front of us speaking from the heart. The next line erases what was said, so the doormat of truth is forever being pulled out from under us. So we never get anywhere, we remain endlessly jerked around in the middle ground of knowing and not knowing.
You come home wondering what was that? What did I see? Did I see anything at all? Prologue sums up what has happened followed by Epilogue negating it, in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't-bang-up finale. The funny thing is (and The Flu Season is funny) that Eno enlists every single strategy: The sheer poetry of Fulton, the hide in plain sight of Cattelan, the hidden truth of Brown, the suspense of Hitchcock and the awkward intimacy of Shawn. It's a game of hide and remain hidden.
Huff, so adept at navigating Eno's slippery logic, leaves us strangely satisfied, even though we remain empty-handed. You start and end in the dark.
Now, that's a magic act.