By Robert M. Johanson and Witness Relocation; Directed and Choreographed by Dan Safer
Produced by Witness Relocation
Off Off Broadway, Experimental Dance Theater
Runs through 10.29.16
Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street
by Lexi Orphanos on 10.20.16
Robert M. Johanson (L) and the ensemble in The Loon. Photo by Maria Baranova.
BOTTOM LINE: In a time all about knowing who you are, The Loon puts forth a cohesive guide for the essentials: how to admit to being a liar, cope with heartbreak, and polish your New England bird calls.
Psychology buffs, dance fanatics, Bill Bryson enthusiasts, and bird-watchers have never quite fit so beautifully in the same melting pot as when at the Abrons Arts Center to see The Loon. What could easily slip into the experimental theater void as just another play of monologues underscored with modern dance becomes a much deeper study of what it means to be human.
Writer Robert M. Johanson’s complete left-brained need for science and sense marries a right-brained release of modern dance with driving beats. In key moments the party comes to life and popcorn flies across the stage while strobe lights flicker, filling the space with tangible human energy. The Loon dissects life in the same way we approach an abstract painting: trying to make sense of every stroke of color can muddy our view, and stepping back and giving over to the whirl of color makes the ride easier.
Johanson takes the stage as the brilliantly blunt narrator. He hits the crowd with the marvelous simplicity of discomfort, playing with time, practicing bird calls, and performing his own school dance rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale”—an eclectic man, indeed. He begins his hour long conversation with the audience by asking “what is time?” Through this age-old question, Johanson very quickly makes himself clear: he is confused by just about every human sensation, and needs to assign thought and order to the true chaos that we live in. He unsettles the audience by questioning all that we know, even lying to us, but is impeccably lovable and quippy, a trustworthy “guide” to help the audience deliberate the paradoxes of time and space.
Although Johanson is the only main speaking character, his hour-long monologue of grief over the human condition could not survive without the striking ensemble of modern dancers who fill the world behind him. The piece is advertised as being written as a collaborative ensemble, and it is evident that each performer brings a palpable sensitivity to every moment of the show.
Above all, The Loon is not some A-B-C narrative involving loons. The flow of the piece makes it such that everyone will leave with different thoughts about what the past hour of their life just meant, and even about the purpose behind each moment: why papier-mâché heads and Ikea slideshows appear onstage; why the loon is single-handedly one of the funniest creatures on earth; why Autumn feels as pensive and pressurized as it so often does. This special feeling—of having your own individual experience in the theatre—is what makes the piece special. In a world all about learning to be “a loon” without having your own mythology to rely on, what can be gained by resisting this need for patterns and order? Step one: place life under a microscope. Step two: forget everything you thought you knew about time, truth, and bird calls. Step three: enjoy the ride.
(The Loon plays at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, through October 29, 2016. The running time is one hour with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8. Tickets at $25 general admission and are available at abronsartscenter.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
The Loon is by Robert M Johanson and the Witness Relocation team. Directed by Dan Safer. Lighting design and set design by Jay Ryan. Projections by Kaz PS. Costume design by Eva Jaunzemis. Assistant costume design by Sarah Lawrence. Mask design by Steve Willis and Eva Jaunzemis. Special Effects by Kiah Vidyarthi. Sound design by Javier Peral. Voice over work by Ella Louden. Stage hands Grace Huang and Adam Pivirotto. Stage Management by Monique Bernier. Produced by Witness Relocation.
The cast is Alexa Andreas, Kelly Bartnick, Sunny Hitt, Annie Hoeg, Eva Jaunzemis, Robert M. Johanson, Vanessa Koppel, Trevor Salter, and Dan Safer.