Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nature Theater of Oklahoma crosses the line

Once again, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) tempts us to cross boundaries of geography, genre and imagination with its eighth edition of Crossing the Line festival (now through October 20). I will share my thoughts on a few CTL events in coming weeks.

Last night, I attended FIAF's New York premiere of The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is Calling You!, a documentary by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, founders and co-directors of the OBIE Award-winning Nature Theater of Oklahoma. (The name, if you're wondering, derives from Kafka; this New York-based performance troupe is about as Oklahoman as I am.) The reaction I posted on Facebook, earlier today, says it all: "Endearing and alarming: THEATER!"

Running at 127 minutes, the diary-like film traces events before and during a 2013 residency in Berlin, a demanding time for the anxious Copper and for Liska, a charismatic Slovak complete with bald head and natty handlebar mustache. Liska wrestles with urges to be creatively out of control and in charge at all times. The couple's personal relationship and their confidence as artists are taxed by the considerable stress of overwork, tension and insecurity wrought by their project's complexity.

We witness the heady playfulness and the nearly impossible intricacy of NTO's group process, so much hard, ceaseless labor for productions that seem so slippery of form, swimming between the familiar and the unknown, buoyed by droll humor. A visual knockout with unrestrained, cheerful light and color, the film can also plunge its unsuspecting viewers through emotionally cloudy and dark places.

Oddly enough, The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is Calling You! made me think back to a Hollywood film I'd just caught up with--George Clooney's World War II drama, The Monuments Men, a diverting, if slapdash, throwback. That film stepped all over its opportunity to make, for our blasé nation, a solid and still necessary case that art is worth sacrificing and maybe even dying for. But I thought of that argument as I watched the NTO collaborators labor and Liska struggle to the point of near breakdown. Maybe not so much why this particular strain of hipster art might matter to society at large but why it matters, greatly, to the artist's soul.

For information on Crossing the Line 2014 programs and venues, click here.

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