The name of the group, "Impossible Theatre," makes one wonder. Is it the theater as an idea that is impossible, or just this particular play? And if it is impossible, why do it?
This kind of elementary intellectual game-playing is probably exactly what the creators of "City of Strangers," which opened Wednesday at the Washington Project for the Arts, are aiming at. The Baltimore group, the first of several appearing at the WPA between now and May 21, does "performance art"--as good a name as any for something that is not play, dance, movie, slide show, concert or light show but tries to marry elements of all. Performance art, whose originators include John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg, among others--has been called "a non-event about nothing." The Impossible Theatre intends to go beyond this goal and say something about mankind and the slim possibility of its future--a goal only marginally attained.
Another byword of performance art might be "what you see is what you get." And that is a continually changing kaleidoscope of images, delivered by humans clad in white unitards and machines operated by offstage hands. Some of the images are neat, such as the projections of pictures and costumes onto the white-clad bodies; a headless broadcaster reading the non-news; and a slide sequence of dinosaurs going into a cardboard McDonald's and coming out with bags of hamburgers.
The verbal element of the show is less effective, both in the words that are said and the way they are said. Declaratory statements, such as "Narcissism is the Protestant ethic of modern times," are pronounced at various times, as well as situational comments like "two for the price of three in the Living Beyond Your Means Department." Since there is no discernible pattern to the remarks, it is hard to presume a message from them. And the performers have an amateurish, uninteresting delivery to boot.
"City of Strangers," written, performed, designed and directed by Ardai Baharmast, Bob Boilen, Kirby Malone, Ro Malone, Sherwin Mark, Steve Okun, Donna Squier, Laurie Stepp and Genie Vincent.
At the WPA through May 15.