The Animals and Children Took to the Streets

by John Stoltenberg

“Stage picture” is a term of art in theater design. It refers to the overall look of a play—colors, composition, setting, etc. The concept enters an extraordinary dimension in this enthralling production created by the London-based performance company named 1927.

On tour around the world for the past two years, “The Animals and Children Took to the Streets” is having a brief run at Studio Theatre. And as others are tweeting, it’s an event not to be missed.

Onstage are three white screens—a large one in the center, two narrower ones on either side, each with a window in which one of three actors sometimes appears. The entire 70-minute performance takes place within marvelous projections designed and animated by Paul Barritt (whose abundant visual imagination belongs in a modern art museum).

Here’s a tantalizing glimpse:

 

I’ve seen a lot of projections for scenic effect, but never before have I been so captivated by real-time interplay between imagery and actors. Breathtaking effects abound. At one point an actor sweeps the stage with a push broom; immediately a puff of dust appears on screen. At another point an actor, standing in place, appears to be lifted high up by a giant hand then dropped—and the heart-stopping peril of her precipitous fall is portrayed solely through the animation onscreen.

In this invented world between live action and film—suffused with lovely music and song (by Lillian Henley) and delightfully stark poetry (by author and director Suzanne Andrade)—a seemingly amusing fable gets told. It’s set in a squalid housing development called the Bayou. Oppression is rampant. Cockroaches climb the walls. (They crawl onscreen throughout the show.) Then comes an uprising (hordes of children taking to the streets). Then the government quashes the rebellion (by handing out gum drops laced with something like Ritalin). The ending is not cheery. This is quite a revolutionary fable, actually—its danger to entrenched authority camouflaged in enchanting stage techniques.

I can’t say I was so taken by the three human performances (Andrade, Henley, and Esme Appleton, who co-designed costumes). They seemed nearly as preprogrammed as the animations running on three overhead projectors, more focused on hitting their marks than making moments come alive. So a throwback Brechtian alienation effect was definitely going on. Yet the overall effect of the show was absorbing. I’d see anything 1927 creates next in a heartbeat.

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