The Everyday Clash Of The Heavy Hand Nov 18, 2011
Temporary Distortions Newyorkland is the kind of work that takes the content hammer and bludgeons you to death. Yes we know police work can be difficult, that it's a job that takes its toll on the psyche, and like war vets, there's a certain inevitability of PTSD amongst its workers. In other words, Newyorkland is a work whose content is known before the show even begins, a work that has little new to say, suggesting that the show is in fact not about content at all. This begs the question, is Newyorkland about form?
As I know little about the origin of this show, it's difficult to say with certainty, but I think there is something interesting happening formally. Much of the dialog and sounds of Newyorkland present themselves as appropriated documentary texts. The source material could be a) actual interviews with cops, b) dialogs from cop television shows, c) video documentary footage shot while on patrol with the police, or d) they’re constructed Mametian texts playing with the ebb and flow of everyday conversation. No matter, this content works in a way that gives the show a certain verisimilitude, and it’s what functions most effectively in the piece.
However, Temporary Distortions exploration of police moves beyond the real, looking also at the surreal, the poetic, and even the narrative. Starting with the stage design, Newyorkland, like New York itself, confines its inhabitants by its structures. In this case, three well-framed police office scenes; the desk job, the front desk job, etc, creating a sort of “Rear Window” onto their worlds. The structures serve to isolate the bodies on the stage, heightening the mental loneliness of police work. It’s a simple yet effective staging conceit that I rather enjoyed.
Within these isolated worlds, dialog is relayed and echoed through everyday office objects like telephones, intercoms, and the like. The echo chamber effect distorting the actor’s voices coupled with an also echoed typewriter sound creates a timelessness that suggests routine and again enhances the sense of isolation. Yet over these sounds, a steady atonal drone forces an emotionally constrained context already present in these other structures.
Above the cubicle like office scenes a white wall serves as a projection surface. Ranging from a wide shot of the office, to an over-stylized riff on the Beasties Boys Sabotage music video, this surface creates a demanding challenge for the spectator, diverting the audience gaze back and forth between the performers on stage and the projection above. The scenes depicted ring somehow less true, more evocative of the non-reality of reality television than of the verite of cinema. They also engage the viewer in a disjointed experience of time. Where the stage is pedestrian and slow the screen is rapidly dramatic.
Towards the end of the piece, the bodies are liberated from their confinement, now in street clothes, performing more poetic gestures; the creation of a fallen officer shrine and the reading of a confessional.
In this dissonance lies the flaw of the show. The arrangement of the documentary elements creates an interesting formalism for the viewer, engaging them in a discussion of the truth of the character's emotional state. Its clash with the constructed or imagined emotional landscape of these officers, and the false dramatization of that landscape in the projections, pulls from the credibility of our sympathy. This show is at its best when it’s not trying to force-feed us its meal, one that's delicious with the casual experience of the everyday and distasteful with the obligated experience of the dramatic and heavy handed.