Conceived and Directed by Heiner Goebbels
Off Broadway, Large-scale Performance
Runs through 6.9.19
Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue
by Ken Kaissar on 6.5.19
The cast of Everything That Happened and Would Happen. Photo by Thanasis Deligiannis.
BOTTOM LINE: A stunning performance piece, enormous in scale and scope, inspired by 20th-century history, that requires a great deal of patience.
I’m going to resist the urge to offer an interpretation of Heiner Goebbels’ monumental performance piece, in favor of just describing what I saw. Even this is no easy task—Everything That Happened and Would Happen is essentially a collage of images, movement, dance, sound, and music that doesn’t easily cohere into a clear narrative. Goebbels states in his program note that the piece “seeks to open up a space of images, words and sounds generous enough to avoid the impression that somebody on stage is trying to tell you what to think. It is a space for imagination and reflection, in which the construction of sense is left for everyone to assemble.” Far be it from me to deny you the chance to assemble and understand this piece for yourself.
If you go, know that it runs 2 hours and 15 minutes WITHOUT an intermission. While I was initially daunted by the task of concentrating on a non-narrative piece for that long, I found it refreshingly contemplative and evocative. If you’ve ever found meditating useful, you’ll likely enjoy this piece. Like church, this piece will give you the chance to disconnect from the physical world and turn inward. But if you need action-packed stimuli, or have a weak bladder, this is not the piece for you.
Merely entering the Park Avenue Armory is awe-inspiring. The space is cavernous, and the seating takes up only a small fraction of that. The playing area is deep enough to offer a sporting event; the sheer scale of what might take place is always incredibly exciting. Here, the space is mostly empty, save for some carts storing fabric, backdrops, and theatrical equipment. At the top of the show, performers start slowly moving the carts, emptying them of their contents. Some arrange tree-shaped flats and hoist 20-foot long pipes. Others lay backdrops flat on the floor to then rig them to these pipes, which are then hoisted into the air. At one point my wife whispered to me “It’s like watching a crew of stagehands load in a set.” That’s exactly what it's like, but with a crew that has no regard for efficiency.
As stage pieces are moved around and backdrops rigged, a performer starts reading excerpts—in different languages throughout the evening—from Patrik Ouředník’s novel Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. The novel summarizes world events from the beginning of World War I through the end of the century and offers matter-of-fact and clinical descriptions that tend to be hilariously reductive: the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal is described by saying that the president derived pleasure by “inserting a cigar inside her vagina.” It sounds entirely ridiculous when offered without judgment.
Once a backdrop is raised fully, it becomes the projection screen for video of Euronews's "No Comment" television segment—in which news footage is broadcast with no explanation, inviting viewers to make sense of the images themselves. The footage includes uprisings and protests from different countries; it is amazing to witness these events unencumbered by a reporter’s interpretation and point of view. At the end of the news footage, the backdrop is lowered and the performers proceed to create the next stage picture. All of this is accompanied by a haunting, atonal soundscape inspired by John Cage’s epic masterpiece Europeras 1&2.
Everything That Happened and Would Happen constantly evolves and transforms, without any apparent logic in its progression. It is at times slow, erratic, static, and stunning. In one moment, big boulders come barreling down a ramp; in another, the stage is flooded with haze. The result is a visual feast served by the world’s slowest waiters, where we get to savor and contemplate each dish before it is cleared and the next one is served.
But what’s it all mean? I said I wasn’t going to do this, and I won't. It means whatever you take from it. I will say, however, that my mind is still stimulated with thoughts about the lack of regard for humanity as societies are constructed and destroyed. But that’s just me. I’d be very interested to hear your take.
(Everything That Happened and Would Happen plays at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, through June 9, 2019. The running time is 2 hours 15 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursday at 7; Friday and Saturday at 8; and Sunday at 3. Tickets are $40, $70, and $95 and are available at armoryonpark.org or by calling 212-933-5812.)
Everything That Happened and Would Happen is conceived and directed by Heiner Goebbels. Co-directed by Michael Morris. Lighting Design by John Brown and Heiner Goebbels. Sound Design by Jody Elff. Video Design by René Liebert. Dramaturg is Matthias Mohr.
The cast is Sandhya Daemgen, Antoine Effroy, Ismeni Espejel, Juan Gonzalez, Freddy Houndekindo, Tuan Ly, Thánh Nguyên Duy, John Rowley, Annegret Schalke, Ildikó Tóth, and Tyra Wigg. Musicians are Camille Émaille, Gianni Gebbia, Cécile Lartigau, Léo Maurel, and Nicolas Perrin.