By Alberto Denis, Kristin Dwyer, Joshua Gonzales, Sean Hagerty, Justin Lynch, Zach Morris, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara OCon, and Edward Rice; Conceived and Directed by Zach Morris
Produced by Third Rail Projects
Off Off Broadway, Virtual Interactive Performance
Runs through 12.11.21
Accessed via Zoom
by Asya Gorovits on 11.30.21
Return the Moon. Photo by Third Rail Projects.
BOTTOM LINE: This site-specific dance company’s Zoom experiment hits a lot of the right notes but still seems underdeveloped.
Return the Moon, the newest production of Third Rail Projects, a renowned immersive theatre company (Then She Fell, The Grand Paradise, Ghostlight), is specifically designed for Zoom and is performed in real-time for an audience of 60. I jumped at the opportunity to see how these masters of choreographed narrative in a 360-degree environment would tackle the realm of the digital. The experiment sounds interesting enough in theory but—I won’t lie—the result is somewhat disappointing. Some moments feel sweet and endearing, but the overall impression is of a piece that is still being workshopped.
Return The Moon combines audience interaction (via chat) with poetic imagery and good old storytelling. Only instead of a firepit, we lean towards our computer screen in our darkened rooms, beverage of choice in hand. For the first part, audience members are divided into four groups, each led by a performer. Those who wish to can turn on their video. And while active participation is not mandatory, as with any interactive piece, the theater simply won’t happen if nobody shows up. However the stakes are low, especially after all participants are anonymized at some point early on.
Connecting over quotidian things is often satisfying. Recognizing ourselves in other people’s experiences is something that further facilitates the bond, and Return the Moon plays on this human trait elegantly. Woven into a legend about the phases of the moon are prompts that encourage the audience to dive into their childhood memories or imagine the scenes from the tale. We are occasionally asked to type in the chat things that come by association—nuggets of a stranger's subconsciousness that will play at the end.
For part of the show, we are encouraged to close our eyes as the screen goes dark. The entire narrative is unfolding in every person’s head. This deceptively simple “stage” device is very effective in creating magical worlds. I was grateful for this reminder of the power of imagination and the fact that we don’t always need screens to entertain ourselves. Sometimes the most whimsical visuals are projected right onto the insides of our eyelids.
That said, Return the Moon is full of striking visuals created with simple materials and inventive lighting effects. Tiny houses made of paper come alive with the play of shadows on them. The manipulation of everyday objects, such as a bowl of grains or a piano keyboard, creates mesmerizing visual poetry with lighting and cinematography created on the spot. Early surrealist films come to mind, as well as the liberal-arts-college film experiments of my youth.
It wouldn’t be a Third Rail production without dance! But rarely do we see the full body of a dancer on the screen. However, in slowly crawling fingertips or ritualistic hand gestures, there is as much attention to movement as you might expect from a company whose primary language of expression is site-responsive choreography. In the era of remote work (and entertainment), seeing fragmented body parts (mostly heads) has become the new normal.
But as the moon goes through different phases, so does life. As a reminder that the physical world exists outside the soft glow of the computer screen, the company mails some kind of package after the show. I haven’t received mine yet—perhaps some holiday delays at the post office. Like with any live show, things don’t always go as planned; waiting for a package in the mail is just another, if unusual, dimension.
(Return the Moon plays remotely on Zoom through December 11, 2021. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $42, Pay-it-Forward at $67, Subsidized at $15. Performance dates and times vary, but the three remaining performances are Sun 12/5, Wed 12/8 and Sat 12/11 at 8. For tickets and more information visit thirdrailprojects.com.)
Return the Moon is by Alberto Denis, Kristin Dwyer, Joshua Gonzales, Sean Hagerty, Justin Lynch, Zach Morris, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara OCon, and Edward Rice. Conceived and Directed by Zach Morris. Produced by Zach Morris & Edward Rice. Assistant Director is Marissa Nielsen-Pincus. Choreography by Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Alberto Denis, Joshua Gonzales, Justin Lynch, Zach Morris, and Tara OCon. Sound Design and Original Music by Sean Hagerty. Visual Design by Zach Morris in collaboration with Alberto Denis, Kristin Dwyer, Joshua Gonzales, Justin Lynch, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara OCon, and Edward Rice. Stage Manager is Kristin Dwyer and Taylor Hollister. Production Managers are Kristin Dwyer, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, and Edward Rice.
The cast is Alberto Denis, Joshua Gonzales, Justin Lynch, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara OCon, and Kim Savarino.