photo by Carlos Gonzales
MYTHO? Lure of Wildness: A Tall Messy Tale
Coming into the theatre at the Abrons Arts Center Experimental Theater to see MYTHO? Lure of Wildness, I was cautiously optimistic. Or should I say, optimistically nervous. I was hoping that this would be an enjoyable night of experimental theatre/performance art delving into the world of creator Anna Kohler. The play is described as a multi-sensory production punctuated with references to Matisse, french art films, and the south of France. After reading a bit about what I was about to experience, I had a feeling that it could go either way. It could be, as described, a beautiful and erotic sensory experience created with the use of enhanced stimuli and vivid images, or it could be a self indulgent piece of self-glory, wrapped in an attempt to be inventive. ‘Mytho’, by definition, means the telling of tall tales, and one prone to exaggeration, so one has to wonder, how much of this is ego driven and fantasy creation? Sadly, Kohler’s attempt of examining what feels like a very personal story of self discovery is the later. It fails to ensnare us in the emotional journey or engage us creatively. As directed by Caleb Hammond, MYTHO? feels forced and in some ways juvenile as it tries to push the boundaries of sensory interactions and stimuli, while also elevating the importance of the writer’s wish fulfillment.
Talking about an aroma from a candle in an overlong video, and having actors walk around spraying air fresher above our heads, does not push any creative artistic boundaries in realm of sensory exploration, especially when it is outside of any intellectual context that is being examined. The same could be said of her use of microphones, moving speakers, and a long discussion of the sound that hairbrush bristles make against her hand. A lot of structure and time went into some of these attempts, but sadly most don’t feel fresh or new. It feels like a stereotypical old school view of what avant-garde performance art should look like when actions and choices, like nudity, were shocking, raw, and dangerous. But those times have passed.
Filled with abstractionisms, and heady ideas, Kohler tries to explore her life and experience of creating and consuming art. What is apparent is that Kohler looks back at her time in Paris as an artist, muse, and model as one seeped in meaning and importance. Part one is all about her time spent as a young woman attempting to find her way, and the first few moments of this section feel the most solid, until we shift off into other story lines and ideas. There are moments of beauty in her portrayal of a model’s heightened vulnerability, strength, and sensuality. There is also grace in the use of a ‘younger self’ as she draws on her own experiences as an artist’s model at La Grande Chaumière, a painting academy in Paris. In these stylized vignettes, there is a tightness in structure as she deconstructs ideas of femininity, power, and creativity. Her fellow cast members, especially Katiana Rangel, Alenka Kraigher, and Adam Strandberg (in numerous roles) are generally as invested in the material as she is, and in some ways they feel more disciplined and on track. Hapi Phace, a performance artist best known as a drag queen and comedian from the days of the Pyramid Club, NY, on the other hand, never fully captivates us in the same way. He and Kohler sometimes feel far away in their own world of performance art, thinking that what they are doing is bold and unique, but in reality, it just isn’t registering. The structure starts to meander off into too many unrelated themes and concepts as we move forward, but the engagement has been lost.
In the second part, Kohler attempts to pull us (back) in by expanding on the theme of multi-sensory experiences and the inspection of art, desire, and the concept of aging and beauty. Instead of engaging us though , she seems to veer off into a deeper and much more abstract construction trying to encompass numerous stages and timeframes. Painting becomes a thematic base for story lines from different planes of thought but the result is convoluted. The focus hasn’t been crafted well enough to keep us fully engaged. The writing feels messy, self-indulgent, and not fully fleshed out. The multiple story lines layered on top of each other only create noise and dysfunction, leaving little room for contemplation. It’s clear that all of this is very meaningful to Kohler. She has an energy and a charm that is appealing, but she seems to lose her balance and focus along the way. At times it almost felt like we are witnessing a rehearsal in the way she speaks with her fellow actors. It is as if she has gone off book, running wild in her own creation. “Hold my mic, I need to go get something” she asks a fellow actor, and although it feels spontaneous and random, I’m guessing this type of derailment is commonplace.
Abstract art and theatre make a fascinating although sometimes complicated pair. Not understanding a point or an abstract direction taken, can be a good thing in theatre. It excites our brains and our thoughts. We can leave a play that doesn’t make sense on paper and structure, and be invigorated. If the play or performance has achieved connection and attachment, we walk out trying to put the pieces together and create some level of understanding. Or at least we have a desire to play with the ideas in an attempt to make some sense of what is being examined. In MYTHO? Lure of Wildness, the abstract experiences we are being shown never really connect to us or to each other, so the illogical gets tossed aside with a shrug. The simplistic use of the latest technology, live action, video, and projection to conjure the multi sensory aspects, to dissect the world of art and it’s creation, and to explore the ideas swirling around beauty and age, lose their hold on us. As the show inches towards the 2 hour mark, all we are really focusing on is escape. And getting a much needed drink. Luckily, in one last attempt to engage us, we are included in some sort of celebration, by being served a wine berry cocktail. It was greatly appreciated.