Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Ship of Fools" docks at HERE Arts Center

Scenes from Ship of Fools
at HERE Arts Center
(photos: Josiah Shelton)

Last evening, HERE launched its 2016-2017 season with Ship of Fools, a multidisciplinary production created by visual artist and puppeteer Jessica Scott with Anonymous Ensemble.  After some delay, we were waved into the tiny Dorothy B. Williams Theatre, filling seats atop what would prove to be our very own "ship of fools"--a platform slowly rotating us past various scenarios of puppetry, dance, music-making and video installation tucked along the perimeter of the space.

My first, innocent step onto this seating area made me fear I was having vertigo--or a heart attack! I stepped, immediately and inexplicably pitching sideways, somehow managing to keep my feet and reach an empty chair. Something probably jostled the platform--maybe even just my stepping onto it--but I didn't figure that out until, during the performance, the platform suddenly began to revolve. That realization would have been reassuring had this turning not felt unpleasant. So this is my trigger warning. But go. You'll eventually get used to the sensation and experience some striking artistry along the way.

Scott plunges us into a shifting terrain that evokes both mental instability and the irrational fear and exploitation of what she calls "women as a dark continent."
From France’s famous all-female asylum Saltpetriere, to the Mary Laundry’s of old England, the overwhelming incidence of modern female depression, to the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights, diagnosing femininity has forged our modern psychology and politics sewing a seed of an insidious fear: a conviction that the fault line between woman and world lies not in the constructions of popular culture but instead somewhere rooted our inherent femaleness.
--from publicity for Ship of Fools 
Scott and her collaborators turn the theater into a combination wax museum, puppet theater, fun house and house of horrors brought to life by her performers--Kate BrehmLiz DavitoJacob GrahamTakemi KitamuraSarah LaffertyGeorgie Tisdale and Jessica Weinstein. We're trapped in a compelling nightmare--equal parts elusive imagery, numinous beauty, amusing absurdity, disorientation and looming terror. I must resist the temptation, here, to open this box of surprises, but I particularly enjoyed one famous, unmistakable article of clothing that undergoes a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions. Its construction and puppet-like manipulation are just a taste of the wild imagination and detailed, painstaking craft on display in Ship of Fools.

The production does have some sluggish, awkward moments--including a few text passages spoken by the otherwise wonderful vocalist Liz Davito. But, no worries. This ship just keeps on turning, always delivering you to something new to discover.

Co-direction, puppetry, costume and set design: Jessica Scott
Co-direction, text and projection design: Eamonn Farrell
Original compositions: Alex Klimovitsky
Lighting design: Ayumu "Poe" Saegusa
Sound design: Gavin Price
Live music and vocals: Liz Davito

Ship of Fools runs through October 22. For schedule and ticketing information, click here.

HERE Arts Center
145 Sixth Avenue, Manhattan
Enter on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street.
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