BWW Review: Gun Violence Abounds in the Experimental Digital Puppetry Show FEAR IN THE WESTERN WORLD at Target Margin Theater
Gun violence is the focus in the wildly experimental digital puppetry show, Fear in the Western World. A couple and their daughter are looking for a new home. They find one in Nesthaven, a gated community. There are lots of problems outside. A community website posts about the dangers. At one point, we hear they've "got to build taller fences around Nesthaven."
David Commander and Rob Ramirez have created this surrealistic horror movie laced with dark sarcasm, bizarre humor, American cultural references and nods to Greek mythology. Three screens are used to project the puppet action being performed. At first, they reflect the homes of the community. The audience is then taken for a deep dive into the depths of this home and the darkness which lies within.
The time period is not firmly established (which may be intentional). The home contains an amusing vending machine which shows digital images of both food and guns. Many different guns are pictured as commentary on our society. An odd scene transpires where food is belched out of the machine and consumed. Images of Alex Jones and Info Wars are projected. Through a pair of dahlia-covered glasses, the gardens look beautiful. Looking outside the windows, however, suggests a bleak and gray landscape. Is this a near future like tomorrow or a hundred years from now?
Daughter Missy is in trouble. An intruder is in the house. Dad grabs his gun and shoots. Missy get shot. Her worry? "Is Dad mad at me?" I assumed that was for being shot accidentally. What is in this house, anyway? The family decides to explore the eerie catacombs to find out.
The design of this show is very interesting. The puppets are bodies with cell phone faces. The actors use handheld devices to make their mouths move as lines are recited. Small cameras project the action onto the large screens from small sets and props. The set pieces are manually adjusted by the performers to dismantle rooms to make hallways which move the plot along. The lighting design (Takaaki Ando) of the catacombs was particularly effective.
Davis Commander has written and directed Fear in the Western World. He is also one of the three performers, along with Maria Camia and a drolly hilarious Nikki Calonge as the wife. The three have a lot of physical work to do in addition to storytelling. That gets in the way of continuity somewhat - a few extra hands moving walls might make scene changes less frantic.
There is an impressive amount of digital technology on display. While the show is experimental and somewhat clunky in execution, the elements assembled suggest what futuristic theatrical presentations may become. For Fear in the Western World to achieve its ambitious goals, however, the more mundane task of telling a story needs clarity and focus.
Too many disparate ideas are tossed into this one hour show. A self-described "loose adaptation" of Phineas from Greek mythology appears and says, "God blinded me and made me homeless." Dad notes, "lucky for you, I'm a good guy with a gun." Trayvon Martin and other gun violence victim names are tossed into the atmosphere. Marauding birds appear. Everything comes together as a slapdash entertainment.
Immediate Medium produced this piece. They describe themselves as "an anti-disciplinary artist collective committed to the creation of works that challenge formal distinctions between performance, dance, film and visual art." Co-presented by the Exponential Festival, the participants in this multi-artist, multi-venue January festival are committed to "ecstatic creativity in the face of commercialism."
Creativity abounds in this production of Fear in the Western World. A tighter grip on storytelling might make the show more commercial but, then again, it also might make it more enjoyable.
Fear in the Western World will be performed through January 19, 2020 at the Target Margin Theater in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.