That’s 6 places you could choose to look in 3LD Performance Center’s new production of Charles Mee’s Fire Island, directed by Kevin Cunningham. It’s hard to imagine how this play existed on a page, but Mr. Cunningham said the dialog all comes from Mee. Intrigued? Okay, I’ll elaborate…
3LD (also known as 3-legged Dog) is a state-of-the-art multimedia center deep downtown. The “theater” for Fire Island is a space the size of my suburban elementary school lunchroom, and two of the walls are covered in curving LCD screens. Imagine being at eye level next to one of those buildings in Times Square and you get an idea of the impact. The remaining two walls hold stages that are covered with a 45-degree slanted glass screen. Projections onto the screen look holographic, as do any actors who wander behind the glass.
And wander is an apt word for the nature of this spectacle. The audience wanders in and receives a key on a lanyard as a ticket stub; the hot dog cart and bar are open; you take your pick of cushion, beach chair or backjack and claim a piece of beachfront facing any which way in the middle of the room. Tubs of soda and beer dot the audience and complete the feeling of being at an outdoor picnic. Actors begin to wander about. You can pick out the more outrageous by their costumes and the less outrageous by the fact that you begin to hear soft amplified voices in the aural cacaphony and notice that the person 50 yards away is moving her mouth as she cuts through the crowd. Some of the wanderers end up in one corner of the room — in front of the tiki hut containing 10 computer monitors that are clearly firing on all chips to keep this display going — to become a band.
Once the structured part of the performance kicks in,which doesn’t require anyone to stay put; it’s still run like a picnic, the drama unfolds: we’re watching lovers quarrel and former lovers hint at why they are finished and potential lovers connect. The dialog rings true to any number of personal memories and friends’ stories, but never really resolves anything. Instead it serves as a medium to explore this amazing performance method. Much like an opera can take any story, but you watch for the singing, this is a show about audio/visual theatrical technique, and there’s a lot to enjoy.
The story takes place in layers. One layer is played out by the actors in the room. A second takes place on screen in video shot in Fire Island during the summer. The dialog is the same, so you have the sense of memory and immediacy, filmic scenery and visceral contact with actors, who might be standing right next to you with a knife in hand. A third layer is abstraction, which manifests as the clown who pranks his way through the play in pursuit of various audience members, but ultimately ends up with the waif, played by Allison Keating, who adds to the abstraction layer by appearing on the ‘holographic’ screens smashing a mountain of plates.
The casting and musical choices are terrific; players are a varied assembly of old and young, pretty boy, plain boy simple girl and exotic girl. Some cast members double up on talent: Tami Stronach acts and dances and several musicians play key roles. The choice of music, Tuvan throat singer and rock band leader Albert Kuvezin of the band Yat Kha, makes this show worth the price even if nothing else was happening. But of course there’s much, much more to take in.
Fire island is that unique venture onto new ground that has you a little worried going in and has you telling friends not to miss on the way out.