For about half of this thirty-minute adventure, Adjusting the Volume is as much fun as an (artistic) blind date can possibly be. Visual artist Lee Gainer displays a gorgeous series of images – high art interspersed, say, with photos of cats yawning wide.
The gifted puppeteer Cecilia Cackley populates an army of enormous sock puppets through this electronic art gallery: a querulous older (i.e., about my age) couple; an überpretensious young man prattling about his incomprehensible art theories to his besieged date; and a kid who would rather be anywhere – including the dentist or the center of the Sun – than in an art gallery. For background and atmosphere, Haskell Small hammers out his soaring music on an RD-150, and we catapault through the funhouse these fine artists have designed for us. We giggle and snort; it’s like being in a cartoon – a great cartoon, like the ones they show at the Sundance Festival.
And then they adjust the volume.
The carefully-plotted lunacy falls away, and we surrender to entropy. Gone is the sock puppet contingent; instead, Cackley inflates a plastic bag (the kind which will cost you five cents in D.C.) and has it wander aimlessly around the floor. Gone are the images – art and kitty cat both – to be replaced by monochromes, which Gainer has selected for their Rothko-like effect.
Small’s wonderful sound continues to fill the room, but it seems lonely now, robbed of the constructive purpose of the show’s first part. It is as though a jet, having achieved twenty-eight thousand feet, decides to see what it is like to cut the engines and coast. Or, put another way: if the first part of Adjusting the Volume is an orchestra, with music, image and wit moving in concert, the second part is a jam session that never quite works out, where the artists probe in vain for a cue which will lead them to the next plateau.
The second part of Adjusting the Volume is largely improvised, which means, of course, that Your Results May Vary. In fact, it is considerably likelier that you will find the second part more agreeable than I did than that you will like the first part less, since the first part is so beautifully polished that I doubt there will be much variation from it.
But like any blind date, Adjusting the Volume should be entered adventurously, with a spirit of optimism and good humor. Odds are you’ll leave the same way.
Adjusting the Volume next performs June 25 at 6pm and July 2 and 3pm
Adjusting the Volume
A Collaboration among Puppeteer Cecilia Cackley, Visual Artist Lee Gainer, and Musician and Composer Haskell Small
Produced by Source Festival
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Running time: 30 Minutes