The acronym used by The New Theatre Festival, TNT, is an apt description of the kind of theatrical energy that should explode each June, when TNT is held in Baltimore.
TNT attempts to gather, in the words of its brochure, "the most innovative and distinctive theater work being done" throughout the world. Two years ago, for example, TNT presented the American debut of Squat, the outrageous Hungarian group that has since sent shock waves through the New York avant-garde scene.
This year, however, the festival was only half as long and half as large as last year. And the most successful presentations were derived from some of the oldest theatrical traditions in the world.
Philippe Petit, the French aerialist who became famous in 1974 for crossing from one World Trade Center tower to the other on a high wire, was an enormous hit as he performed every day of the festival, Thursday through Sunday, at Baltimore's Mt. Vernon Square.
Petit drew a chalk circle on the sidewalk and transformed the interior into a one-man circus. He is a clown who genuinely makes people laugh - as opposed to the time-killers in the big circuses. He is also a magician, a juggler and, in Baltimore, a low-wire artist. His formidable physical skills are matched by a sensational knack for improvisation, though he never speaks a word.
Murdoch, a San Francisco group that presented the premier of its "The Regard of Flight" at the festival, employs the same theatrical traditions used by Petit but adds dashes of vaudeville, slapstick and satire.
The chase scene is usually associated with the movies, not the theater, but Murdoch stages a theatrical chase that would be hard to top, and punctuates it with ironic reflections on what it all means. This was the one act at the festival that seemed entirely too short.
Some of the other acts seemed entirely too long, particularly those located in a tiny sweat factory in a downtown church. Groups should not accept invitations to this festival unless they're assured they'll be performing in air-conditioned spaces.
One of the actors from the Rogaland Teater a Norwegian group making its U.S. debut at the festival, reportedly fainted from the heat, contributing to the cancellation of the group's final performance. Prior to the cancellation, however, Rogaland was well received for its version of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Yerma."
"Yerma," the story of a woman who is desperate to conceive a child but finds herself shunned by husband and neighbors, was staged in a U-shaped enclosure that resembled a bullfight ring, with sawdust on the ground and a perch for gossiping townsfolk located over the top of the "U." It wasn't precisely clear whether Yerma was supposed to be a sympathetic toreador or a sympathetic bull, but the concept was arresting and the performers convincing.
The Kahn Theatre of Jerusalem whipped up an impressive frenzy in "A Terrifying Story," based on a tale from the Kabbalah and performed in Hebrew. But the staging of the final scene, depicting the triumph of evil, veered toward soft-core porn, whips and all.
The Mental Guerillas of London, with Peter ("Equus") Firth, performed two talky set pieces that were intellectually agile but better suited for television or print.