Created by Winsome Brown; Directed by Winsome Brown and Brad Rouse
Produced by Fits & Starts Production
Off Off Broadway, Devised Play/Solo Show
Runs through 10.2.16
The Performing Garage, 33 Wooster Street
by Rachel Abrams on 9.23.16
Winsome Brown in Hit The Body Alarm. Photo by Mick Cantarella
BOTTOM LINE: This visually and aurally stunning exploration of American incarceration uses Paradise Lost as a lens, and is a great introduction to devised theater for those new to the scene.
For artists not associated with the famed Wooster Group but whose work resonates with the company’s aesthetics, “The Performing Garage Presents” offers a unique opportunity to present new and developing work in Wooster Group’s historic Performing Garage theater space. In honoring the legacy of this famed space, Hit The Body Alarm delivers. It lives up to its avant-garde/poor theater roots in a Hell created by plastic sheets, sound looping and manipulation, innovative projections, a few key costume pieces, and of course, a brilliant performance, by creator/performer/co-director/co-writer Winsome Brown, of powerful classic and contemporary texts. Hit The Body Alarm represents the best of the “classic downtown” aesthetic. The magic lies in how the piece transports us to intricate fantasy worlds with just a few (seemingly) simple elements…even while exposing the artists’ labor and the theatrical artifice before our eyes.
Hit The Body Alarm takes its name from a smart, nuanced new monologue by co-writer and co-director Brad Rouse, which details an incident where officials are called in to inspect a body in a penitentiary. The short performance pairs this story with a new monologue by Winsome Brown titled “Elaine,” in which an inmate attempts to justify the harrowing crime that got her locked up. Both stories reflecting modern prison conditions are nestled beside choice excerpts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, detailing Satan’s fall to Hell, rise to power in the underworld, and visitations to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The classical description of Hell finds deeper meaning when paired with descriptions of human-made prisons, and with comparisons to contemporary (timeless?) questions around morality, sin, and autonomy.
Sean Hagerty creates a brilliant soundscape using his own electric violin skills, Foley effects recorded in a looper (which the audience witnesses Brown recording as we enter the theater), compositions by John Zorn, and live electronic manipulation. And Christine Sciulli’s video designs against Jean Kim’s simple, yet vibrantly textured scenery illustrate a Hell that’s fearsome, yet awe-inspiring.
Perhaps most notably, once one gets accustomed to the “exposed theatrics” aesthetic, Hit The Body Alarm is incredibly approachable and easy to follow, especially when compared to other experimental theater offerings around town. While deeply intelligent, the performance never purports to be some heady, “holier-than-thou” experimental piece, and pairs its found texts in ways that enhance, rather than mystify or unnecessarily complicate, their meaning. (Granted, it probably helps that most audiences would be familiar with Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and the Garden of Eden, if not Paradise Lost itself, to provide some context.) I imagine Hit The Body Alarm could be a welcome entry-point into the downtown scene for audiences who have had less exposure to work in the experimental/found text/devised/exposed theatricality vein.
How inventive to compare the current prison system with Milton’s Hell, and thereby emphasize not only the horror of the prisons, but the humanity of the prisoners. Hit The Body Alarm makes me excited to pull out my copy of Paradise Lost from high school and reexamine the text in today’s cultural climate.
(Hit The Body Alarm plays at The Performing Garage, 33 Wooster Street, through October 2, 2016. The show runs 1 hour, no intermission. Remaining performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $18 (free for AEA) and can be purchased online at theperforminggarage.org. For more information visit winsomebrown.com).
Hit The Body Alarm is created and performed by Winsome Brown. Texts are by John Milton, Brad Rouse, Winsome Brown, and James Joyce. The directors are Winsome Brown and Brad Rouse. Music is by John Zorn. Sound Design, Electric Violin, and Live Electronics are by Sean Hagerty. Lighting is by Michael O’Connor. Scenic Design is by Jean Kim. Video Design is by Christine Sciulli. Video Technician is Doug Mills. Stage Manager is Jane DiBartolo. Technician is Matthais Neckermann. Technical Direction is by Bill Kennedy. A Fits & Starts Production.