BWW Review: Gob Squad's BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES Puts Kids On Display
Go to the theatre often enough and you're bound to see more than few productions where cast members are already on stage when the audience enters, engaged in some kind of pre-performance activity.
The difference with Gob Squad's new presentation at The Public, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES, is that the cast members are children enclosed in a room that separates them from the audience with one-way mirrors, allowing patrons to see inside but letting them see only their own reflections.
As we watch them amusing themselves in a makeshift playroom with games, books and a TV set, there's the sense that we're about to see some kind of scientific study, but the UK and Berlin-based company is in the habit of using video and unorthodox theatrics to play with an audience's perception of reality.
There are two companies of local actors, democratically labeled Team 1 and Team A; both a mix of spirited kids with professional acting credits, ages 9-14, who have been involved with the project for two years. The text is based on their own improvisations, although the opening lines may not be.
"We've been thinking a lot about death lately," says Eloise, who appears to be around twelve. "No matter how things work out, I will be dying, so will you, so will everyone here."
The calm and evenly toned disembodied voice that guides the kids through the performances advises her that the audience would rather see the youngsters acting carefree. The music gets cranked up and each kid is introduced while freestyle dancing, both live and on video.
The voice tells us we're in for, "a rare and magnificent opportunity to witness seven lives lived in fast forward."
But before going forward there's a bit of backtracking where the cast watches and responds to videos they taped two years ago.
Matthew appears to be a hula hoop expert, but on the old video he could barely keep it twirling. Jasper reacts angrily to watching a video of his younger self talking about getting a special present and a note from a girl who liked him.
When the time comes to grow into teenagers, one girl begins stuffing her bra with tissues, a boy masturbates on the couch (his back to the audience) and they all pose with cigarettes.
It's an extended game of dress-up with the cast taking turns sticking their faces into cameras as they offer close-ups of dressing in black for their punk rock phase, acquiring crow's feet and paunches at middle age and finally, all dropping dead.
Their videotaped selves cut in to ask questions about their future lives and the guiding voice draws out their impressions of what it would be like to be older, but BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES never quite reveals a purpose for its existence.
The kids are terrific and fun to watch, but while the 70 minute experimental study is reasonably entertaining, it's not especially enlightening.