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Letter from Berlin, 2-7: Trickland
Macras Turns Clichés into Art

By Angharad Davies
Copyright 2008 Angharad Davies

BERLIN -- Watching Constanza Macras/Dorky Park's newest creation "Brickland" is a lot like downing a frosty can of Red Bull, followed by a few shots of Nesquik. There's not much rest for the eyes. The in-your-face, marinated in pop culture trashiness overwhelms in both its thematic scope and imagery. It's almost like watching video after video on YouTube, but without the anesthetizing effects. And it's definitely a lot more fun. The twelve inhabitants of "Brickland," which takes its name from a vacant residential development in Macras's hometown of Buenos Aires, use song, text, video, and movement to create a messy world that touches on a myriad of troubling and messy subjects. Climate change, incest, marriage, xenophobia, protectionism, bra-burning, homelessness and L. Ron Hubbard each rear their icky heads in this two-hour, intermissionless production.

The January 26 performance at the Schaubuehne opened with a shock as live musicians cracked into action with ripping guitar and drum riffs, both supporting and instigating the riotousness to come. The citizens of "Brickland," a gated community, are obsessed with the need to believe that everything is A-O.K. in their controlled environment, but as we soon learn, there is no stability in a world invented by Macras. It's a blinding whirlwind of chaos that works to blur or, perhaps, hide her true meaning. Everything is fragmented and layered, and the velocity of every scene seems to be perpetually escalating. Even the set, a huge mass of scaffolding, ramps, plastic windows, and lightweight metallic tents looks as if might crumble onto the stage at any moment.

Macras's movement language is physically ferocious, with lots of violent knee and body slams, and these qualities alone are enough to make the piece riveting. But there is always something happening in "Brickland," and this often makes it difficult to see what is really happening. There is so much visual noise on stage that the overall appearance is that of a piece only about superficial things -- there is only a surface that lacks deeper meaning beneath it. One assumes this is Macras's intention.

The most successful scenes in "Brickland" are the ones that portray conflict between the players, triple threats all. Towards the beginning of the piece we see a neighborhood beautification committee hard at work. The difference between your mother's beautification committee and the one in "Brickland" is that these do-gooders are naked, save for some carefully placed trash covering their more delicate parts. Here, a donut. There, a plastic fork. A water bottle and even a fish (don't ask) make an appearance. Sure, it's a gag used in umpteen movies ("Austin Powers," for one), but it works here, too. The nearly-nude performers are careful to reveal not a nipple or a scrotum as they begin to debate about their duties, their hostility intensifying. Suddenly, Macras pulls a switcheroo, and from performer to performer, like the abrupt turn of a radio dial, each sings a different song. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" switches to "No Woman No Cry" which ping-pongs into "Give Peace a Chance" and then, to cap it off, they aggressively belt out "Kumbaya" (while skipping and holding hands, no less). It seems the only hard and fast rule of "Brickland" is that divergent ideas are accumulated and crammed together, piled high with multiple possibilities of meaning.

Throughout the piece, the characters continue to speak and sing at each other without really listening. Instead, they caress, hump, slap, violate, and are interfered with, in their desperate search for a connection to waylay their fears of isolation in what is ultimately a rudderless and senseless world. The flesh, it seems, is the only means these people have to relate. In one very disturbing duet, a man (Jared Gradinger) sits with a woman (Angela Schubot) on the floor and cradles her from behind. What immediately makes this scene especially distressing is the quiet and focus that elicits a sensuality and sensitivity lacking elsewhere in "Brickland." For the first time in the piece, there is no music, no excess movement -- just two people sitting together on the floor. This draws us in. Then we remember that the man is playing the woman's father and we are horrified. The dad caresses his daughter's lips, slipping his fingers into her mouth. She clambers onto his chest while he removes her shirt and bra. Soundlessly Schubot dangles away from Gradinger before he clasps her tightly, smoothes down her hair and carries her into a metallic tent at the edge of the stage. Then, brilliantly cutting the breath-holding tension, Gradinger bounds out of the tent, an ecstatic, love-proclaiming, sofa-jumping, fist-pumping wild man et voila! we're back in the land-of-trash (and, by now, cliché) with a parody of Tom Cruise's infamous appearance on Oprah. This crafty transition bounces us quickly from real-world seriousness and discomfort into Macras's world of superficial pop.

Belying a deeper societal critique, "Brickland" forces the viewer to question the shifting lines between the artificial and sincere, high and low culture. In the last image of the piece, the ensemble gathers, silhouetted by a video of performer Jill Emerson in a pink ball gown running though a deserted neighborhood street. It's a striking image that could prove that beneath trash and pop culture, Macras has made a thoughtful piece that addresses the folly of modern life. Instead she dips into her bag of cliches and sets the final scene to that ubiquitous piece of choral music, "O Fortuna," from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Why that piece of music? One that's employed in countless movies (including "Jackass: The Movie"), television shows (an episode of "Friends"), and even by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, who use it before every home game to get their fans fired up? Maybe because Orff's chorus sings, "Fate -- monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, you are malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing, shadowed and veiled.... Everyone weep with me." Sifting through the outward satire, a grim and despairing stance emerges. Ultimately, "Brickland" is a world whose citizens literally wind up as shadows cast in the empty streets of a sad and disillusioned community, under the flare of stark neon lights. A bleak view, for bleak times.

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