We Are Living in a World of Wires

01/18/2012 4:00 AM |

World of Wires
Written and directed by Jay Scheib

"It's a living world," explains Fred Stiller, the new chief engineer of Simulacron-3, "but it's inside an electronic box. I mean, we are alive, but they're on television, and it's like making, making itself." This analogy, offered early on in Jay Scheib's new multimedia theater adaptation of Daniel Galouye's 1964 sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 at the Kitchen, World of Wires (through January 21), is one of the most coherent given during the hilariously tense and trippy performance. It's the stuff of classic worlds-within-worlds mind-fuck scenarios like Strange Days or eXistenZ, in which the intensity of simulated environments increasingly undermines the validity of reality. That this scenario is performed on stage and simultaneously on screens placed throughout the performance space—which display a live feed from a camera toted by Scheib throughout—adds to the sense of dislocation between the real world and the one made up of wires. (The format recalls Liz Magic Laser's similarly successful experiment, I Feel Your Pain at Performa 11.)

The occasion for our insight into the project headed by Stiller (Jon Morris) is a visit from the Secretary of State (Mikéah Ernest Jennings) to check up on its progress. "Our prognostics are still flawed in 5.8 percent of total cases," reports Stiller's boss Hillary Gardner (Tanya Selvaratnam), CEO of aptly-named Rien Incorporated. "I see," the secretary hesitates. "Is that impressive?" The very chaotic, irrational and cyclical format of the performance further breaks down boundaries between events occurring in the the play's "reality" and the simulated world into which the characters repeatedly travel through Matrix-like neural hookups. This journey into the simulator—specifically, a thrice-repreated visit to a convenience store robbery scenario whose consequences are more real than intended—involves rapid costume-switching and actor substitutions that are plainly visible onstage, but choreographed to appear almost seamless for Scheib's closed-circuit camera, further underlining the disjuncture between stage and screen. There are really two performances here: one for the audience, and one for the camera.

Such a complex and self-aware production could easily falter in the hands of a less talented ensemble, but every actor here brings the right mix of irreverent humor, intensity and adaptability. And there are innumerable variables to respond to throughout the show. The scenic design, by Sara Brown, necessarily involves trashing the whole set, from the wall of cardboard boxes that comes crashing down early on to the many items of furniture that are thrown and smashed—on the night I attended Scheib even tripped climbing over an upturned chair, falling on his side but keeping his camera held aloft and trained on the actors like an impeccable cartoon waiter dodging obstacles to deliver a drink. The reality-undermining narrative of the novel gains another layer in this mediated live performance, showing us two versions of the same acts (one on stage, the other on screen) and thereby suggesting the possibility of countless alternate realities. If only for a moment, Scheib makes us question how hardwired into this reality we've become.

(Photo: Paula Court)