BWW Reviews: Pavel Zustiak/Palissimo Present ENDANGERED PIECES at Abrons Art Center
There is something innately quaint about The Playhouse at Abrons Art Center on the Lower East Side. With its gently sloping, softly carpeted floors, velvet seats, and colorful walls, the atmosphere is somehow reminiscent of a small-town, high school auditorium. It feels held in suspended animation. This old-style sensitivity is a jarring, yet totally suitable, backdrop for the world premier of Pavel Zustiak's Endangered Pieces.
Upon entering the theater, a naked man (Jaro Vinarsky) lies on his back on the open, unlit stage. Three giant light poles are set up in the space, some standing and some fallen. The image is stark and post-apocalyptic. Against the uncorrupted theater, the scene seems prophetic. A tall, thin man (Matthew Rogers) enters in gray corduroys and a zip-up hoodie. He nonchalantly calls to someone off stage about adjusting the height of the curtain, not noticing or even seeming to be at all related to the same performance Vinarsky has long since initiated. The lights fade.
Throughout Endangered Pieces there are episodic shifts between boyhood and manhood, mortality and immortality, and purpose and preoccupation, all of which seem to be existing in a shadow cast by an unknown, impending disaster. Zustiak and Rogers move Vinarsky's body, completely stiff as in after death, across the stage, flipping him head over foot and tossing him over their shoulders until the jostling, like some kind of somatic CPR, brings him to back to life.
The light poles, which initially looked like the foreboding wreckage of fallen electrical lines, become the definitive lines of three, identical, erect deathtraps, a scene that is austere and Biblical. Against a blood red backdrop, the three men hang limp from the tops of the poles, slowly dripping down toward the floor. When they reach the floor, they face upstage, their shoulders shrugged high and heads bowed. It looks as if three headless monsters have emerged where three men vanished.
After an unnerving incidence of militant marching, made viscerally uncomfortable by deafening, repetitive music and stark, white lighting, the back of the stage starts to crumble. Long wooden planks, once fitted against the back wall like a log cabin, begin to crash down as the walls close in. In the end, the men are left in a pile of rubble, and in this state of post-disaster, they begin to play, like children, constructing, destroying, and testing the capacities of their new building blocks.
Although Endangered Pieces is performed as a trio, Pavel Zustiak, true to form, draws equal parts of attention to every aspect of the performance. The experience is made whole by an impeccably accurate soundscape performed live by Christian Frederickson and Bobby McElver. The lighting design, by Joe Lavasseur, shapes each episode, foreshadowing what is to come and flashing reminders of that which has already occurred. The set is integral. The dramaturgy speaks the question, "What kind of man does this?" into existence.
'Endangered Pieces' ran from October 2-12, 2013 at Abrons Art Center.
Photo by Nandita Raman.