Slanted dimensions of modernity and fable slide into the basement at the Yale Cabaret, forming a jagged, disturbing view of reality.
The performance piece “Shadowless” adapted with able ingenuity by Naomi Okuyama DRA ’07 transposes Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Shadow” from paper pages into a heightened sense of contemporary dissociation and delusion.
The fragmentary nature of the work is strung together with the basic fable of one Man played by Charles Alexander whose Shadow is ripped from his physical self. Unfortunately for the Man this spirit is a maleficent one. It uses its slinky abilities to carve out a comfortable, if slightly sketchy, life for itself as the Man slowly disintegrates into, dare we say, a shadow of his former self.
The sleazy Shadow, played with aplomb by a slightly over-eager Alexander Dominitz ’09, slips out of the Man’s life and into some other dimension which resembles that of reality but everything seems to be a little skewed. The Man begins to morph into a new form of experience. “Did I mention the lack of color? It simplifies everything.” The world fades into monochrome and spreads out into a limited sliver of two-dimensional illusion.
The plot becomes gradually more difficult to follow as the piece draws on but this only adds to the unsettling sensation of loss in the bleak picture of social modernity residing in the realm of darkness. The Shadow’s lack of morality disturbs his former Man who muses in a Jekyll and Hyde like fashion “If he is a reflection of me, what does that say of me?”
The often profound script is sometimes plagued by a lack of naturalism; the human characters are mere vestiges themselves, lacking full-blooded existences. This lack of substance means that the shock value of the gradual transformation into Shadow-land fails to resonate since the show seems resigned to two dimensionality from the beginning. The stilted framing story does little to elucidate the central problems of the piece, but does provide a set of structural bookends to anchor the wandering slips of characters.
Alexander does an admirable job as a Man struggling against the depths of confusion as he slowly fades out of his reality. Creating a stark contrast with his easygoing but remarkably unforgiving characterization of the Shadow, Dominitz glides through the role making the most of the Shadow’s flair for the dramatic. The Woman, played by Katherine Martushova GRA ’08 adds a tantalizing texture to the world of the play with a soft, feminine characterization. Floating in an existential plane devoid of meaning, her character still remains groundless like so many of the other figures floating through this fleeting modernity.
A world of transient characters himself, Dustin Eshenroder DRA ’07 plays the menagerie of other personages that briefly intersect with the Man and his Shadow. His broadly drawn mannerisms add a strong measure of comic relief while adding to the exaggerated feel of the desperation in the work.
This adaptation draws the world of the fable in simple strokes, choosing blunt stark emphasis over a semblance of subtilely. The sharp, radical innovation in this production is the coordination of the “set” constructed by Visual Designers Kim Androlowicz DRA ’07 and Michael Locher DRA ’08. Two puppeteers moving slivers of shapes construct the ephemeral story-book world through which the characters move. The lighting design, by Ji-youn Chang DRA ’08, makes brilliant use of actual shadow, alternating between depth and transparency frequently masking the characters’ visages.
The hand-made and yet clean-cut feel of the set consisting of screens and light compels the audience to form their own conception of the world. The coordination of the moving shots and still life can be a little disjointed, but the jerky ephemerality adds to the loss of permanence inherent in this misty, surreal plane. The attempts at unity and meaning and formal existence all break and fail, with the Man finally pleading “There’s got to be continuity, right?” His wish dies unanswered into the chaos of control and loss as the shadows fly by.
The moments of profound insight peppered throughout the play make it an experience of alternate longing and mental invigoration in the midst of a bleak perspective on modern desperate existence.