It seems like the best possible word to describe the set that Temporary Distortion
has built for their latest show, Americana Kamikaze
(through November 14), and for all their past shows, as a matter of fact, is "apparatus." Director Kenneth Collins likes to say that his sets evoke the artist Joseph Cornell
â�‚��„�s shadow-box assemblages with live actors, and in some respect they do. More than that though, the set and what happens within and on top of its strict boundaries is a tool for manipulating the audience and exposing the tropes of certain cinematic forms. The word "apparatus" also evokes the kind of critical theory spearheaded by figures like Louis Althusser in the 1980s that seems to underpin the performance. The trouble with a literal and critical apparatus is that itâ�‚��„�s usually a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Essentially Americana Kamikaze
is a deconstruction of Japanese horror films that also draws in material from Western horror flicks. There are four actors that play within the frame of Collinsâ�‚��„� set, two at a time, exchanging dialogue under colorful noir-ish lighting while striking video projects between and on top of the actors. Mood music ratchets up the tension for most of the 60-minute or so production, indicating the nervousness that the audience should feel as we anticipate an eventual, horrific climax.
The dialogue in the opening scene is brilliantly funny and extremely well-timed. The actors Yuki Kawahisa and Ryosuke Yamada are excellent in their roles as the archetypal vacant, vaguely brooding sex object and dry Japanese businessman. Most of the subsequent scenes abandon any comedic elements and begin to undertake the deconstruction of the horror form, each scene highlighting various horror devices—the lone cowboy-like detective, the vacant and often silent women that the men have sex with, the tortures these women visit on themselves, the tortures that the men visit on the women, some goth-y suicidal stuff, a ghost or spirit thatâ�‚��„�s haunting people, etc, etc. And itâ�‚��„�s all in very generic terms. You arenâ�‚��„�t let in to a story in any specific way. Most of the scenes rely heavily on the video projections and music to simply establish a vague mood and heighten the tension or anticipation. Because of this feeling that the horror form is being demonstrated for the audience, the tension actually becomes static in its repetition. The audience is made to anticipate something, but when the something continually eludes us and we arenâ�‚��„�t allowed to understand anything significant about the characters, the performance becomes monotonous.
Ultimately I think deconstruction can be a very useful tool for artists, intellectuals, and theoretical tinkerers of all kinds. Whatâ�‚��„�s problematic here is that thereâ�‚��„�s deconstruction without commentary. And in a form like horror, particularly the kind of Japanese and American horror films that this show is evoking—where so much of the drama revolves around men using, abusing, and fearing women—if you donâ�‚��„�t add commentary to the deconstruction then youâ�‚��„�re just repeating troubling cultural conventions. When is it going to finally get boring to see wane women with no lives at all lying around or standing naked in windows waiting for their lovers to return home and then killing themselves or becoming murderous she-devils when the men inevitably do not return. Surely thereâ�‚��„�s got to be something more interesting we can say about heterosexual anxiety and love these days—heaven forbid there should be some homosexual love in the mix as well.
Collins and his co-creator William Cusick (the man behind the video in the show) have clearly developed a polished and very well-honed aesthetic. The production values in the show are far higher than your average emerging downtown performance group. In fact, the production values on the video are so unusually high that I was distracted momentarily wondering if the group had hired someone from L.A. to create the stuff. Also, the kinetic energy that the set creates by drastically limiting the movements of the actors while simultaneously blending the lights, video, and music is very effective. It does, however, have an incredibly cinematic feel, which left me wondering about the necessity for the experience to be live, aside from the three-dimensionality that it adds.
In the end, thereâ�‚��„�s clearly a lot of potential in Temporary Distortionâ�‚��„�s work, but theyâ�‚��„�ve got to push past slick deconstructions and get to some real content. An aptitude for theory can be a really exciting in art, and examining the narratives we repeat in society is a big part of the game, but thereâ�‚��„�s got to be new insights or it ends up feeling like an exercise rather than a bolt out of the blue.
(photo credit: Jon Weiss)