High Velocity Surrealism or, Buckle Up, It’s Going To Be A Bumpy Night: “The Grand Parade (of the 20th Century)”

This video has been slowed down considerably to protect the innocent.

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Produced by Double Edge Theatre
Conceived, designed, and directed by Stacy Klein
Composed by Alexander Bakshi
Music and vocal direction by Lyudmila Bakshi

April 30 – May 3, 2015
Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warning: Strobe effect, Gunshots

One hour with no intermission.

(Boston, MAStacy Klein writes in her director’s note that Grand Parade (of the 20th Century) pairs the dream-like works of Marc Chagall with the “extreme conflicts” of the twentieth century. Images from his paintings are reflected in the troupes’ depiction of significant events in American history. Her intention as designer, director and co-creator was to “(reflect) history through (the creators’) own eyes” as “the only way to speak to (their) desires for the future.” If what Klein and Double Edge presented is their vision of the future, we are doomed; Grand Parade is a hot mess.

Grand Parade is a cacophony of sound and disorganized action that negatively overwhelms the senses. The only indication that there was rhyme of reason to the presentation was the loose implication from stage projections that the troupe was recreating events from American/world history. Double Edge’s symbols and metaphors weren’t presented clearly. Even if they had been, they were presented at such a breakneck pace that they blew by too quickly to comprehend. The effect was rather like the constant playing of images in the A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico technique scene. The ensemble kept at their emotionally and physically violent theatrics for over an hour.

Now, that being said, the actors are clearly well-trained. They are strong, and have developed great skill and stamina as actors and musicians. Their masterful use of the space, stage and each other is impressive. Of the myriad things that they did, all of them were executed with implied study and care. But the issue at hand isn’t skill. It’s about execution and practical expectations.

Endorphins (just like alcohol or other drugs) can make the rehearsal/conception process feel like mind-blowing. The trouble is, one must allow endorphins to dissipate to determine if what was created while high was actually art or just another lesson in the pleasure principle. It is my impression, that with all of the athletic drama occurring on stage, no one took the opportunity to consider the endorphins. It’s as if, while conceiving Grand Parade, the group decided that if it felt good, then it would look good in performance. Editing be damned.

Yet, once and awhile there were moments of brilliance. For example, an actress was hoisted across the stage on a trapeze in homage to Amelia Earhart. She flew a plane engineered from wheelbarrow used in a previous spasm of surreality. It was an elegant tribute to an amazing adventuress because it took the time to wow us. It too quickly faded back into madness.

This production needs to be shaken out like a picnic blanket and smoothed out to remove the copious wrinkles. It would have been sublime if only it had slowed the Hell down. There were too many symbols, too much history covered in only an hour. The audience was expected to process too much, to care about too much, far too quickly. Perhaps the intent was to be overwhelming, but an audience ostracized to the point of offense is an audience that won’t return to learn more. Stamina is impressive but it isn’t art.


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