Saturday, May 21, 2016

Entangled at JACK: "The Geneva Project"

Jennifer Harrison Newman in The Geneva Project
(photos: Barbara Anastaciao)

On any typical evening, the little Clinton Hill performance space JACK makes a tight fit for performers and audience. Visit Jennifer Harrison Newman's The Geneva Project, though, and you'll really find yourself all up in the scenery and some of the performing going on where you'd normally be sitting. But that's okay because you're allowed to step all over Abigail DeVille's very Southern Gothic installation, ducking under hoodoo spirit bottles, picking around wood shavings and dusty, tangled branches, trying to read the writing on discarded sheets of paper and wondering if those suspicious holes in a tattered, trampled American flag were torn by bullets.

Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite and presented in association with 651 Arts, the work draws inspiration from Newman's family photographs from Depression-era South Carolina.  She found these photos in the Library of Congress, and their captions identify their subjects as "negro," "mixed race" or "Indian." The title of the work comes from Newman's great-aunt, Geneva Varner Clark.

The Geneva Project is swampy--hazy and dark, airless and disorienting. Haunted, too, with Newman and Justin Hicks emerging out of the depths--or, perhaps, out of the history preserved by those strewn-about pages--like fretful ghosts. Her initial appearance is marginal, partial, fitful--mainly the repeated extension of fistfuls of crumpled paper. When she later moves into the central space, she shows, at first, an interesting combination of flexibility (at her core) and restraint.

Hicks' collaboration--as composer and sound designer as well as performer--contributes to the confining, obsessive, sometimes thunderous atmosphere. At one point, he sings, "I keep going up to that house, 'cause it's not too far up...." and "up" takes on eerie connotations.

But as much as The Geneva Project stirs up a troubled and troubling understory, it leaves so much more to history and to imagination--which is only correct. There's so much more to the American story, and we're scarcely ready for it.

with Paul Leiber (projections), Chris Myers (text) and Tuçe Yasak (lighting)

The Geneva Project concludes tonight with a performance at 8pm. Space is limited, but you can check on ticket availability here.

505 1/2 Waverly Avenue (between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue), Brooklyn

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