Puppets — and menace — in the ballroom
2 Dimensional Life of Her, the first production of the RADAR L.A. International Festival of Contemporary Theater, might better qualify as experimental film than any conventional idea of theater. The show emerged from the solitary drawing practice of Australian artist Fleur Elise Noble with the urgency and randomness of a fungus proliferating out of a forest log. (Noble created, performs and directs the work and also fabricates the set anew in each location.)
Noble had become “frustrated by rectangles and 2-D surfaces,” she told me after Tuesday’s opening performance, which explains why the intense 40-minute fantasia seems determined to break all rules of planes, scale and linearity. Incorporating drawing, animation, puppetry, film projection, performance and sound design in a heavily layered, mostly wordless, mostly black-and-white film collage, 2D plays with notions of making/unmaking, creator/creation, real/imagined.
Noble plays a character who is at once a homemaker — wearing what might be taken for a housekeeper’s head schmatte and vigorously wielding a broom — and home-breaker, literally tearing down, punching through, collapsing, erasing or sweeping away walls. At one point there’s a conflagration that brings to mind the burning screen at the climax of Inglourious Basterds. Each puncture reveals another world or two beyond; each rupture presents a portal for the “real” projected Noble to interlope in the land of paper and puppet and vice versa.
Although Noble is the only human performer visible (a second person moves several props unseen), video cutouts of Noble interact with video characters of her own making. Gaunt male figures come clothed in corporate attire and wear the blank menacing faces of crash test dummies. Soon they assume a drolly nightmarish role, peering in the window of her living room and chasing her, zombie-like, from surface to surface. It’s reminiscent of Harold of Harold and the Purple Crayon drawing a dragon that frightens even himself.
This cascade of images tumbles through once-elegant, grandly scaled ballroom on the second floor of the Hotel Alexandria, erstwhile stomping ground of screen stars of old, now a low-rent apartment building in derelict downtown Los Angeles. The occasional noise of traffic and sirens from the street adds yet another surreal layer to this multimedia project.
A work of obvious obsession and impressive craftsmanship, 2D falters only when Noble loses confidence in her dream, resorting to words when none are required. At its best this detailed alternate universe follows a logic and rhythm all its own. At one point, when a gigantic line begins to manically scribble each projected surface until almost everything is blacked out, I found myself holding my breath, nearly expecting the line to continue straight into the audience.
2 Dimensional Life of Her. Los Angeles Theatre Center. RADAR L.A. June 14-19. http://www.redcat.org/radar-la/fleur-elise-noble
For a more art-centered look at 2 D, see Gallery Piece.