Picture a theatre performance. The essentials: stage, actors and audience, each a separate entity serving its own purpose. But through their most recent project, “Streamline Integration Celebration,” SIC InC and Control Group strive to destroy any pre-conceived ideas of what defines a production through their self-described “avant-garde, experimental” work. Avant-garde, indeed. The performance takes place in several, elegant rooms in the clubhouse of St. Anthony’s Hall, a semi-secret three-year society. The performance — which is composed of a series of strange interactive scenes — is shrouded in a type of mystery that at once entertains and baffles the audience.
The audience is integrated into the show from the start. Upon entering St. Anthony’s Hall, audience members take part in an off-kilter dinner party put on by an eccentric, cult-like posse, played by the members of Control Group, Yale’s only experimental theatre ensemble. The show begins the moment the viewers/participants step through to the “reception room” where they must partake in the kooky ritualistic dances planned by the ensemble. Then, audience members are led down into a banquet hall, descending into the basement and further levels of strangeness. The members of SIC InC provided the soundtrack for the evening, alternating between providing background music and commanding the attention of the room.
The strange pausings in the music and the random tappings of the players on their instruments contribute to an overall sense of disorderliness in the performance, as though half of the group had missed a beat.
But Naomi Woo ’12, co-music director of SiC INC, explained that the chaos is intentional. One song, “Les Moutons de Panurge” by Frederic Rzewski, is a piece about “the absurdity of group mentality.” The score is intentionally hard to follow, and the instructions at the top of the score read, “If you get lost, stay lost. Continue to follow the rules strictly.” Taken in this light, the musical selections add to the creepy ambiance of the performance, creating the sense that one of the performers could lose his mind at any moment.
Will Turner ’11 — a member of Control Group who co-directed the performance alongside Avery Faller ’11 — said experimental theatre is “nebulous,” an appropriate way to describe not only the unconventional approach of the ensemble, but also the purpose of the performance. With its “mad-scientist”-esque costumes and eerie flashing lights, the show is certainly fascinating. But its fault is that it is fascinating only for the sake of being fascinating. The quirky goings-on that surround the audience formulate some sort of narrative: an evening dinner with eccentric “Addams family” types. But what is lacking from that narrative is a clear message that ties the whole show together.
If the purpose of the co-directors was to showcase a different type of theatre performance, they succeeded. And if performance is defined as strictly entertainment, SIC InC and Control Group have sufficiently completed their task. Audience members will enjoy the various progressions of the performance that both excite and alarm. But upon exiting they will ask themselves not only, “What just happened?,” but also, “So what?” The mystery that characterizes the whole performance permeates through the actions of the ensemble cast and to the show’s message. The show is worth seeing for its entertainment value but, ultimately, its random quirks serve little purpose than to bewilder the audience.