Posted by: Justin Hopper | October 17, 2008

Kassys in Liga: Part 1

…in which the blogger writes a proper review of Kassys’ Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts show.

Attention, Children!

In the beginning of the live portion of Liga, the actors of Amsterdam’s theater troupe Kassys stiffly walk onto the stage, their legs like stilts, their ruddy faces blank with unknowing. On the stage, a variety of oddities: A volcanic black sculpture, a table full of toys, a traffic cone, a drying rack, a ladder, an eight-foot-tall inflatable palm tree. Together with the assortment of large cushions, it’s got the feeling of the “rumpus room” of some 1970s split-level family home – one decorated by Ron Popeil and John Waters.

We know who these characters are from Liga‘s first part, a film that shows Kassys exiting the stage, slapping each other on the back, over-congratulating themselves on a job rather immensely well done. Thus the live performance is, in fact, a flashback, a process of building toward the exeunt.

Back to the middle – aka the beginning: The actors begin exploring their environment, poking and prodding the objects, picking at the reflective tape marking stage directions, and eventually provoking the onstage light-and-sound technician to intervene with their increasingly violent, child-like onstage play.

I’ve been in bands before; I’ve stayed in wrecked hotel rooms and had to get people to the sound check on time: This behavior all looks familiar. Not just from corralling lost, alcohol-influenced twentysomethings, but from an earlier incarnation – from pre-schools and kindergartens, the cultural brainwashing that builds of our anarchic spirits a composed person able to cope with “the real world.”

The problem is that, as an irregular contemporary theater-goer (like you, I depend on Anya for this stuff), I spent a solid third of Liga waiting for it to end. This is theater of process, a true spatial experiment, like Stoppard without words. And that means that little actually happens – although it fails to happen in a way that’s both beautiful and very, very funny. Liga‘s brilliance – and it is brilliant – is in Kassys’ ability to create dramatic tension, crescendoes and decrescendoes, and build a thoroughly dynamic approach to what is essentially a comedic onstage experiment in human behavior.

Take as an example the ‘scene’ when the actors first recognize the existence of the audience. Beginning with mere waves and “Hi’s,” the actors build toward a flurry of attention grabbing, competitively seeking to out-do one another: As one lifts more and more objects above his head in Olympian grandeur, another climbs to the top of the ladder and strips off her sweater and shirt.

The commentary on theater, particularly the director-actor relationship, is hard to miss. (Best moment: When Klaus, the “light and sound tech,” storms onstage to clean up after the actors. Recognizing they’d gone too far, the group begins a series of patronizing and deferential remarks that any performance tech has heard a hundred times.) But mostly, Liga seems interested in generalizing these behaviors: Theater as a stand-in for culture as a daily force, a learned set of rules that allows us to rein in some fairly serious primal urges and live – or, in this case, act – amongst other human beings.

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