"Photoanalysis" is one in a series of what author Michael Kirby calls "structuralist plays." Employing photographs as accompaniment for an opaque story about a husband's mystifying death, it is being performed - and very well performed - by the Willows Theater Guild at the Washington Project for the Arts, 1227 G St. NW, with performances Wednesday through Sunday at 8 p.m.
With a lecturer using slides to illustrate the thesis that photoanalysis is an outgrowth of psychoanalysis, the story is told through two women seated on chairs as if in the witness box - the wife, a radical, and a female friend, a psychic.
Kirby's story is a less interest to him than his theory that "a photograph can tell us something about a person which cannot be seen in real life." This sounds very astute until it occurs to you that the converse is more true: We can see more from real life than a photograph can tell us.
For Kirby's theory and, indeed this work, is dependent on two factors he conveniently ignores:
The camera does not click by itself. An unmentioned observer was present for all the instants photographed. It was the observer who chose the shots, the angles, what not to include, what to include, what to picture when. An invisible person, a witness, was present.
A picturte may not be what it seems, or what this letter says it is. Because a table is between a man and a women does not mean that the man is merely leaving the room or wants to clear a fleck of breadcrumbs off the table. Because the lecturer wants to make a meaningful point about Carlo and his wife, the choice is his to suggest a tactile or non-tactile indication. But it does not necessarily follow. The camera, as we all know, can be made to lie.
At a time when photography is perceived as art, Kirby's fascination with the medium as an analytic tool certainly is understandable and photographs can in fact tell us much.
But they are still machines requiring the human touch, the human spirit, if you will, and to claim for the camera attributes it cannot have without human connivance is to ignore the mastery of humanity over the purely mechanical.
The result is that splendid as Sherry Dolin and Barbara Callander are in controlling their material and assured as are Rick Petterson as the lecturer and Loring Henderson as the projectionist, the exercise is merely theoretical and lacks the warmth, the true vitality, of humanity.