Check your pre-conceived notions of a theater experience at the sidewalk at this week’s innovative Tyger at Mead Theatre Lab by banished? Productions. The interactive experience begins before you enter the theater, playfully toying with the divisions between audience and performers. I don’t want to give anything away about the experience, but suffice to say that you will be best-served heading into this with an open mind and unguarded heart. banished? productions is an avant-pop performance company that makes use of immersive interdisciplinary art forms, and this performance is packed with thought-provoking glimpses into other lives in just over an hour.
The play unfolds over a series of scenes – scenes that both bewilder and carry the audience obliquely into a futuristic netherworld of protest, post-apocalyptica, and loss.
From the very first scene, performer Gregory Ford sets the tone, beginning with a disarming directive to the audience that we will be safe in here and he will tell the truth. Ford performs with a calming certainty that both settles and unnerves – we come to feel that the distinctions between truth, half-truth, and lies are blurry; that safety and danger are constantly changing places; and that, at any moment, we are either inside or outside of the group with which we sit.
The spare set, fabricated by Niell DuVal, constantly changes, shifting along with the shifting reality we are witnessing, toying with the emblems of the traditional home, communal tables, collective actions, and shared rituals.
The characters – though we are reminded early on that the contours between performers and characters is obscure, here and elsewhere – are members of an art collective, No Ingles, who protest an oppressive government through poetic acts. The oppression is revealed incrementally: references to surveillance cameras, to those watching, to those who have disappeared. The effect, maximized by effective use of lighting, sound, and projected images, by Gordon Nimmo-Smith, DeLesslin George-Warren, and Jane Claire Remick, respectively, with Kelley Kidd’s fine stage managing, is of a political state that is both familiar to us (hello, NSA) and horrifying (hello, 1984). One of No Ingles’ members is one of these disappeared, and her absence figures in the performance as a fifth character, a gaping, heavy hole that calls into question how we deal with grief and loss individually and in our families, both those we were born with and those we choose.
Rachel Hynes, lead deviser and performer, is a particularly strong performer, metamorphosing many times from a grieving sister to tarot card reader to vigilant anarchist. One particularly unnerving scene featuring Hynes, directed to creepy perfection by Carmen Wong, is one in which Hynes plays a Julia Child-like woman describing with finger-licking pleasure how and why to eat a tiger, her sharpening knives a vicious backdrop to her narrative.
Why tiger? According to the production notebook, “the tiger has been represented in human culture as legend, lore, power, aggressor and with its near extinction, victim. Our Tyger embodies the call, reckoning, and imperative to heal, although we can only hear echoes of it – a distant roar, a subtle stripe – until it is upon us, forcing us to leave our version of the past behind.”
Annalisa Dias and DeLesslin George-Warren, as well as Gregory Ford, maintain and strengthen the eerie world of Tyger, characters that cling to their past memories while searching for more, searching for togetherness and meaning in an unstable world.
Otis Ramsey-Zoe, deviser and dramaturg, and Carmen Wong, who directed, have put together a very fine cast and fascinating script that delves headlong into the nature of truth, history, and our relationships to each other. Tyger is only playing for one very short week and it should be playing for much longer. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.