If everything means nothing, and art can be a smear on the wall – DADA speaking -what, then, defines and separates art from indecipherable noise? It’s a question Pointless Theatre grapples with and inventively shows us the roots of the art movement, and the resulting chaos that ultimately engulfed it.
The DADA art movement of the early twentieth century was at the forefront of anti-art. A reaction to the ravages of WWI, it sought to find meaning in nonmeaning, using tone poems, found art and collages. It was political as well, leaning heavily on an anti-bourgeois and leftist worldview. At its height, German and European artists such as Hugo Ball, his wife Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, and Richard Huelsenbeck strove to separate art from the preconceived constraints of society.
But it was short lived, and its heyday lasted for barely two years between 1915/16 and 1918.
In revisiting the flash in the pan that was the DADA art movement of the early 20th century, Pointless Theatre manages to have a rip-roaring time. It’s a lot of noise and not much substance, like Dada itself: but even so, it’s an awful lot of fun to watch.
Most of Act I centers on Hugo’s early life and is semi autobiographical. His birth is rather hilariously played in full view; of course, as he is a wee littl’un at first, he has no body and is just portrayed as an animated red rubber ball. Things progress in more or less linear fashion, until he ends up in hospital and has a bit of an epiphany; Jesus and various historical figures visit him (I think, anyway; Pointless’ view of linear is not what one might call the norm).
Act II covers more of the Dada movement itself and the avant-garde figures of the day that endeavored to espouse and explain it. As an historical lesson, Hugo Ball fails to educate much beyond the buzzwords of the time, but the energy and inventiveness of the ensemble saves it from being a slog.
A thin budget is put to good use here: though the proscenium is mere painted cardboard, performers fly through the curtains with amazing speed: a ramp becomes a birthing chair, a slide and a multilevel playing space. Placards announcing the next scene are likewise cardboard, but with such artful lettering that they’re a delight to read, and a mention must be made of the crazily beautiful witch masks and oversized geometric heads of the artists by designer Patti Kalil.
Closes May 14, 2016
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Though puppetry is often mentioned as one of Pointless’ design strengths, the few puppets themselves were a bit underwhelming. While Hugo was boldly portrayed as an assemblage of a red ball and some mailing tubes, played with great manipulation by multiple ensemble members portraying him, his wife, poet Emmy Hennings was a rather disappointing large sock figure that more often than not simply dangled there.
One of the highlights of the show is the sheer energy level of the performers- even during intermission, the ensemble was on, interacting with and even following the audience out to the bar, all the while engaging in nonsense mini-entre acts. Though I should caution it’s not or everyone- it must be said by this no-longer-young-but-not-dead-yet reviewer that such a high energy level, starting screech high and spread out over a longish two hour span with no visible highs or lows gets to be more than a bit headachy at times. The taped segments’ sound levels of the small space were likewise at a high pitch, making the unmiked actors difficult to understand at times- though, in true Dada fashion, this may have been intentional.
Acting is likewise vehement, with lots of mugging and overarch intent; again, Dada may be the aim here by director Matt Reckeweg, but frankly it’s hard on the senses to have an entire evening of it. But there are so many comic touches this can be forgiven- for example, at several points in the action, two tourists with huge outsized Mickey Mouse hands and two dimensional cameras come onstage to snap pictures and comment on the action- this cracked up the audience each and every time.
For all the flaws, it’s a fun and inventive show, filled with the wild abandon at the heart of any art movement, be it Dada or surrealism or today’s modern trends. At an overlong two hours, I wasn’t riveted the whole time, but I was intrigued, and it’s a fun and active evening out.
Hugo Ball: A Dada Puppet AdveNTurE!!/?1!!?? by David Lloyd Olson . Directed by Matt Reckeweg . Assistant Director: Rachel Menyuk . Ensemble: Frank Cevarich, Kyra Corradin, Madeline Key, Sadie Leigh, Devin Mahoney, Hilary Morrow, Stacy Musselman, Matthew Sparacino, Scott Whalen, Sarah Wilby . Composer:/Music Director: Aaron Bliden . Lighting Designer: Mary Keegan . Costume Design: Lee Gerstenhaber . Set/Puppet/Mask Designer: Patti Kalil . Fight Director: Lex Davis . Sound Design: Michael Winch . Stage Manager: Josie Felt. Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.