Created by Chris Green
Off Off Broadway, Puppetry
Runs through 6.30.18
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue
by Ran Xia on 6.22.18
Katie Melby in American Weather. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: An inventive multi-media performance that's a meditation on American life.
The title of American Weather suggests a multitude of meaning:
The recurring motif is change: to experience it, as well as to resist it. Such is the idea that sparked Chris Green's creation of American Weather, a performance that uses puppetry, music, animation, and poetry to elaborate on the question "what is 'American Weather'?" The piece suggests it is certainly more urgent than just climate—the country is going through something radical, and can't seem to stop disappointing the rest of humanity. How can we even begin to describe the current weather in America?
We are introduced to the "protagonist" of this rather abstract narrative, first in animation form, then as a puppet: a faceless figure with wobbly limbs who seems to have lost its footing. The figure moves about with uncertainty, climbing down a staircase in pitch darkness, a stumbling that turns into a sort of dance, like the autumn leaves at the mercy of the wind. When embodied on stage by Katie Melby, the figure becomes the representative of white America with a presence that's at once enigmatic and pathetic, perhaps best described as poetic nonchalance. We witness certain absurd scenarios as the character receives instructive messages from a radio, and breaks its own house to keep the fireplace going.
The loose and open-ended narrative is strewn with metaphor that might resonate in unexpected ways: a moth slams itself against a light bulb with all its ridiculous determination. It is explained that this is not caused by attraction, but rather disorientation—the light bulb is an explosion of light, unlike the moon, which can be used to navigate one's path. But that's what humans do: we stumble in the wrong direction with ignorant determination, living in easy denial. This is one of the many examples of the poignant way the piece dissents human nature and American psyche.
However, American Weather is certainly not the easiest show to follow. Rather than a play, this is more of an anthology of poetic impressions, a dramatization of creator Green's meditation on American life. American Weather holds a magnifying glass to the psyche of white America, something hinted at in the very first animated sequence, which enlarges a piece of straw to reveal the microcosmic interiors of the fragile structure.
My favorite part of Amercan Weather is its inventive use of texture and sound, including Chris Green's versatile repertoire of musical inventions, in which even a squeaky chair becomes an instrument. The staccato of high-pitched breath becomes a perfect symbol of the voice of a lost population. The cast (Erin K. Orr, Rima Fand, Yasmin Reshamwala, and Katie Melby) also contribute tremendously to both the visual and audio textures. With clever design, the piece is a treat for theatre aficionados who appreciate multi-media storytelling. However, while thoughtful, the intentions and messages of American Weather are perhaps too hidden to be fully comprehended or appreciated.
American Weather also visualizes political influence, like a prickly seed brought about in gusts of strong wind. And ideas are like an infection: once an idea consumes one, it spreads onto the next, and this is how a seed morphs into weather. So how does America weather? Can we find resilience in dark waters? These are hopefully the questions the audience leaves the show with.
(American Weather plays at HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, through June 30, 2018. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7. Tickets are $25 general admission, $45 premium reserved, and are available at here.org.)
American Weather is by Chris Green. Music and Sound Design by Chris Green. Music Director is Sxip Shirey. Costume Design by Erin Wilson. Lighting Design by Ayumu “Poe” Saegusa. Projection/ Video Programming by Hyung Seok Jeon. Sound Engineer is Hugo Fowler.
The cast is Erin K. Orr, Rima Fand, Yasmin Reshamwala, and Katie Melby.