The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by Robi Polgar, August 4, 2000, Arts

Invisible Moments: Sleepy, Dreamy, Pleasing

Hyde Park Theatre,

through August 5

Running Time: Flexible

The ocean rolls in, wave after wave; a performer's arm swings languidly back and forth; a shadow of a two-way radio, held by the tip of its antenna, becomes a giant pendulum; even an axe crashing down upon a block of wood over and over again, also in silhouette -- these repetitious images soothe and linger for audiences observing this installation-cum-performance piece, created by Jason Phelps and Stephen Pruitt with the help of some of their artistic friends.

In a white-sheathed Hyde Park Theatre, where the atmosphere is sleepy and dreamy with the calming white noise of ocean sounds and tape loops and Luke Savisky's film loops and Graham Reynolds' Philip Glass-ish live keyboard dissonance, Phelps and Pruitt move about the space inviting audiences to share some intimate moments and recollections: Phelps tells a story about his new suit, Pruitt a tale of swimming for his life; they share a story of a mysterious winged monster foreshadowing disaster; they sit and say nothing at all. They move from point to point, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes performing repetitious movements that look like actor warmups or a physical exploration exercise of a personal nature.

And this is where audiences are going to either love this show or dislike it. It is very personal. Not painfully so (there is no hysteria so common to what constitutes performance art), but one often gets the impression that the audience isn't necessarily necessary, that the performers are just doing what they want in a fun space created mainly for their own enjoyment. The wish of the creators that audiences wander about is not supported by the way in which the performance unfolds as there are no clear indications that now would be a good time to relocate. Nor does the layout of the space encourage movement. Frames of various fabrics, suspended from the ceiling, perform lovely, rhythmic ballets but serve also to separate performer from audience; they make meandering tricky once 20 or more spectators are seated in the room. Some of the material is read out of books that must mean a great deal to the performers but perhaps not so much to their audience. Couple that with what appears to be movement for its own sake and all the ingredients are in place for an evening that is self-referential and self-serving.

Why audiences should love this production, though, is that Phelps and Pruitt are both engaging performers and clearly not self-serving (they are self-referential, but in a laid-back, self-deprecating, good-natured way). It is easy for them to reel in the audience during their stories, which sound as if they are telling them in a less-formal setting than the theatre. Phelps particularly has such a wonderful range of movement, a lovely and malleable voice, and a remarkable stage presence. And even if sometimes a story sounds rote, or a connection is lost, or a performer disappears behind a sheet, Phelps and Pruitt's friendliness, coupled with the room's calming atmosphere, gives rise to pleasant meditations and never boredom.

Audiences are invited to come when they please, to stay as long as they please, to move around if they please, and to pay what they please. With these two pleasing chaps, Invisible Moments is sheer pleasure.

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