The cast of New Islands Archipelago. Photo by Darien Bates.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, multi-media performance that is one part musical, one part mystery, and one part performance art; it definitely delivers an enjoyable evening.Being the design/technology junkie that I am, I had been wanting to see something at 3LD Art & Technology Center for a while now. I had heard of their emphasis on technology and especially video, so I was quite excited for the chance to check out New Islands Archipelago, presented by The Talking Band. Coming in dry (ha ha, it's about a cruise...on water...but I digress), I found it a refreshing and original experience.
The press notes describe New Islands Archipelago as once a real-estate scheme, a tropical dream of new beginnings, and the accidental destination of the passengers and crew of the cruise ship, S.S. Azure. The action takes place on the ship's deck, within the various rooms, in the sea, and within the characters' dreams (which are rendered on video). Each person who has embarked on the cruise longs for a change and, as the voyage progresses, the passengers begin to enter one another's dreams. Thrown together with strangers in increasingly unfamiliar surroundings, they find their lives propelled forward and unfolding in ways they hadn't imagined.
The journey starts off with cruise-boat deck games in the lobby of 3LD – shuffleboard, darts and mini-golf, along with deck chairs. There's even a cruise photographer who will snap your pic in front of a tropical background, and you can even have the picture emailed to you after the show. Members of the cast are also out in the lobby, but with all the other comings and goings, I wasn't sure if they were supposed to be interacting with me (akin to shows like Tony and Tina's Wedding). Nevertheless, I got a kick out all of this, although who goes on a cruise where there isn't any alcohol!? And you don't get a playbill, you get a Travel Guide.
Paul Zimet's writing and direction weave together reality and dreams, and ask us good questions of what is happening around us, what is friendship, and what is family. Hilary Easton's fluid and effortless choreography really stood out to me as the multiple dance scenes feel very organic and constantly in motion. I always appreciate when movement has the look of a well-oiled and well-practiced machine.
Ellen Maddow's music is extremely appropriate. The excellent live combo really makes it feel like a cruise. New Islands Archipelago isn't a musical, it's more of a play with musical numbers, and it adds an interesting multi-disciplinary nature of the piece.
The show is visually impressive, as well. Olivera Gajic's costumes are just stylized enough to not be extreme and they work perfect for this piece. I really like how she transformed the captain as he went more and more into his own world. Nan Zhang's lighting deserves a special note for the fantastic use of color and angle, and texture. I especially enjoyed the geometrical floor projection. This is someone to watch. Nic Ularu's set is functional, but in the end kind of drab, especially with how zany some of the costumes were and the action. I could have used more differentiation between the 3LD space itself and what was considered the ship set.
Simon Tarr's projections are quite wonderful and appropriate, but I could have used more of them, and I'm still not clear what was motivating the whole "moving porthole" in the golf scene. But the collaboration between the scenery, lighting, and video was well thought out and the three elements worked in harmony.
The cast is lovely, comprised of skilled and talented actors. Todd D'Amour, James Himmelsbach, Kristine Lee, Bianca Leigh, Ellen Maddow, Beth Meyers, Steven Rattazzi, and Tina Shepard do an excellent job with this quirky production.Combined with the design and artistic team, and the capable musicians, this is a well rounded, professional production. If you have some spare time and find yourself in lower Manhattan with a yearning to see something different, I strongly suggest you check out New Islands Archipelago.
(New Islands Archipelago plays at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street at Rector Street, through June 6th. Performances are: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25 and $20 for students and seniors. Purchase tickets and find more info at 3LDNYC.org.)