Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Critical Perspective: 'Architecting' by TEAM

Michael Thomas Taylor

September 23, 2010

Two things have stayed with me since TEAM’s performance of “Architecting.” The first is the team itself. The image of the Cathedral, built over centuries by teams of unnamed craftsmen, aptly captures this company’s foundation. Like the paper model and its builder we see on stage, the analogy is a little haphazard and hammed up, though not in the least bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s true of the way this company works. They inhabit each other’s imaginations. The result gives weight to the second thing that has stayed with me: their palpable commitment to the work’s ambition – to “architect” something new out of the American dream.

You can read more about this project’s raw materials in the many on-line reviews that have appeared since it opened two years ago: New Orleans, Margaret Mitchell, “Gone with the Wind,” and the red soil of the South, “the best soil for cotton in the world.” But for all the evening’s dramatic complexity, to my mind these monuments of American culture are left largely intact; I didn’t leave with the sense they were, like New Orleans, a site of catastrophe. The characters and their stories may have found themselves dislocated across history and highways, but the performance rarely moves beyond a basic impulse to tell a story. To me, this was a missed opportunity. The actors are so skilled, so fluid, and so compelling that it’s a pity the structure of the piece itself fails to gain any force of its own. This starts with the set. The video projections, the storm-induced blackouts, the thunderclaps, even the recorded voices – they never amount to much more than a cinematic backdrop to the drama on stage. Once during Scarlett’s monologue a video-link goes live and suddenly new dimensions open up. But moments like this remained isolated, even forgotten, as did the bar-singing welcome to the audience that receded into a collection of worlds more or less behind a fourth wall (or at the very least safely ensconced within a dramatic space). To me, the urgent need to “architect” the ruins and promises of these iconic myths called for more radical choices.