Red Over Red
Written by Shannon Sindelar and Ryan Holsopple
Directed by Shannon Sindelar
In 31 Down's latest production, Red Over Red, which ran this summer at the newly renamed Incubator Arts Project (following its divorce from Richard Foreman), the sound underlying the players' actions is so rich and heavy with metaphor and catastrophic hyperbole that it scarcely allows room for the actors to be anything other than accessories to its magnitude. This is not in any way surprising (or detrimental) considering the theatrical resume that 31 Down has so far worked up. Last year's Assember Dilator was, although different in scope, no less jarring in its sonic ambition.
At times in Red Over Red its seems as if the actors are there merely to hold the place on the stage, to fill it up with things to look at—to give the sound something to act upon, or an idea to ground it. The sonic engineer, Ryan Holscopple, who also plays the creepy guy in the airport drinking coffee and eating chips, creates sonic slaws of rich heavy cream bass, treble spice, and sugary buzzing and crashing that can alternately soothe the psyche or send a listener over the edge, screaming from the theater. The production's subject matter, a behind the scenes anatomy of a plane crash and its attendant melodrama, is ready-made for the loud noises and scraping metal which are direct consequences of the crash. But it also involves a more personal look at the doomed souls involved, the indirect consequences—the adrenalin junkies, perverts, and phobics who populate the international airline system and keep us safe (or not) as we travel across the world like moths towards a bug lamp.
The first scenes of the play focus on Holly (played by an adequately mousey Shauna Kelly), a stewardess, who is so deathly afraid of taking off and landing (flying is safer, statistically, than driving a car, right?) that she hides in the bathroom and cries during both maneuvers. Why does she remains at her job in the air instead of finding other employ? Red Over Red poses this initial question delicately and the answer builds slowly over a framework of raw fear and lacking self worth. There is a phone call before a flight, as the voice of Holly's friend Craig intones, annoyed, that Holly needs to stop calling him like this; there are suggestions of impropriety and a love triangle. Effectively cut off from her only source of solace in her increasingly claustrophobic airborne prison, Holly turns to the aging pilot Captain Frank Donna (DJ Mendel) for a different kind of shoring up. Donna's hobby of renewing his membership to the mile high club as often as possible is pathetic in a way, self-serving and cruel, preying on Holly's fears of flying; even while Donna's wife (the ghostly Caitlin McDonough-Thayer) dreams of his fiery death in a screaming mass of melting metal as it smashes into the ocean. No matter how jarring Holsopple makes the soundscape as the plane tears asunder in mid air, flying an airliner is still just a job, and somebody's got to do it.
Red Over Red is full of inventive staging and innovative use of tiny cameras and video projection to create the illusion of imprisonment and claustrophobia in the small space at St. Mark's and though much of the play unfolds in what might be considered a conventional style (save for the sound) there are of course the signature touches of any Ontological-associated experiment. In an early sequence, the lights go up on Donna's wife in a red dress lying on a red carpet fading into darkness at the rear of the stage; the lights flicker and Donna stands behind her beginning to undress, menacing, murderous, angry, the lights flicker, he is closer, horror movie sequencing—the “Look out behind you!” moment—but as Donna draws closer, getting nearly nude, his wife removes a series of long butcher blades from the bag and places them neatly in a row on the ground. One wonders who exactly has the upper hand in their bizarre courtship. Red Over Red is frightening, and the title is meant to invoke fear as well. The mnemonic device a pilot uses to remember the position of his Visual Approach Slope Indicator on a runway includes the phrase, "Red over red, you're dead," intimating to the audience that their chances of making out of this production are slim—statistically speaking.
(photo credit: Sue Kessler)