Following a first workshop production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Happenings at the Harman series, banished? productions have returned with version two of their work in progress, TYGER. A meditation on loss, ritual, and identity, TYGER is a show on the tipping point – an intriguing, thought-provoking work carrying the weight of too many ideas.
TYGER focuses on the fictional DC theater collective No Inglés, as they attempt to process the loss of Gabby, a company member who has been “disappeared” by an overtly tyrannical US government. Audience members are invited to the collective’s final performance, a ritual meal designed to channel the company’s grief. From there, TYGER expands outward to show other events in the company members’ lives as well as a kind of stream of consciousness that encompasses everything from tigers to tarot readings.
The brainchild of lead devisers Otis Ramsey-Zöe and Rachel Hynes, TYGER boasts a diverse set of influences, including Jose Rivera, Jorge Luis Borges, various forms of mysticism, and the writings of Roland Barthes. Deviser/performers Louis E. Davis, Emily H. Gilson, and Jenna Zhu (Hynes is also a performer) play out the company’s fascination with these ideas, and it’s fascinating to watch the group work through the issues and relationships they’ve uncovered.
The core relationships – between the company members dealing with their loss, between Gabby and the elusive metaphor that is the tiger – are solid foundations for the play. Like, the tiger, Gabby is a symbol representing whatever it is that people need her to represent. She’s inspiring, cruel, facetious, engaging. Most importantly, she is absent, and that gives the rest of the company the space they need to assign personal meanings to both the person and her disappearance. And that theme of constructing meaning pervades many of the more esoteric events of the play. Tarot readings are nothing if not attempts to construct meanings from abstract symbols; interpretive dances to ’80s songs invite the audience’s interpretations.
Despite this solid core the production doesn’t quite hold together -yet. Several of the recurring vignettes, including audio from a magic show and a concert performance, never seem to link back to the rest of the production. And while the company seems interested in blurring the lines between fiction and reality, between the performers and the audience, it’s an idea that is introduced but never really explored. The performers initially greet audience members as if they are attending an event for a real missing person, complete with cease and desist letters from the government and images from past collaborations with Gabby. That’s a lot of effort, but as with so much of the production it’s an investment without a payoff. We’re never again called upon to engage directly with Gabby as a person or an idea.
At the end of the day, TYGER is still a work in progress, and I’m excited to see what the next iteration brings. Whether banished? returns with another workshop, a finalized production, or a real live tiger, my advice to you is the same: keep an eye out.
TYGER played on April 11, 2014 at Hillyer Art Space-9 Hillyer Court, NW in Washington, D.C.
‘Tigers, Tarot and the Process of Storytelling at banished? Productions This Friday @7:30 PM & 9:15 PM.
banished? productions’ website.