Academic journal article TheatreForum

Bryan Reynolds Gets Close in Transversal Theater Company's Fractalicious!

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Bryan Reynolds Gets Close in Transversal Theater Company's Fractalicious!

Article excerpt

Bryan Reynolds, Chancellor's Professor of the University of California, Irvine, crosses to the podium and looks out. Having just heard a list of his many accomplishments as an interdisciplinary scholar and theorist, playwright and theatre director, we might find Reynolds's tracksuit-and-Cuban-hat ensemble a bit surprising. And then, as Reynolds begins his lecture, we are caught off-guard again by his fractured, halting delivery. "We are here...," he says, pausing, "it is important that...." Abruptly, Reynolds stops to stare out like a man who has wandered into the wrong room, or like the victim of a micro-stroke. "Most important," he resumes, "is that...." Reynolds pauses again to look into the wings, as if expecting someone to arrive. "We are gathered so we can stop...."

Reynolds's glitchiness is already having a defamiliarizing effect, subverting the expectations we bring with us to a lecture. Reynolds's odd affect appears to be infectious as well-a few members of the audience laugh a little too loudly as Reynolds describes being "tickled to death." We hear music too now, a low pulsing score, as high-res digital imagery begins to flicker on a screen upstage-a fast-paced montage of skiers and sky divers intercut with affectively-charged close-ups of insects and animals and with long shots of cities and planets. For better or worse, we are sliding away from the standard framework of the university lecture... but toward what? The question remains a good one for the length of the evening, which, it turns out, is designed to draw our attention, not to any fixed destination, but to exactly this kind of swerving across familiar discursive and disciplinary boundaries.

A strong case can be made that, like most forms of art, theatre runs on the experience of surprise. The lead character of a comedy opens his apartment door expecting a drinking buddy and encounters his mother-in-law instead; Agamemnon walks the red carpet expecting a warm bath and encounters instead the edge of a knife. We bond with the characters on stage as they experience the free-fall of stable frameworks suddenly being pulled out from beneath their feet. Seeing them scramble in the face of unmediated experience in all its vividness, we discover a degree of vicarious freedom from the confining narratives and routine assumptions that dim the intensity of our encounters with the world. Watching the same production unfold night after night in front of different audiences (which is how I have learned most of what I know about theatre), I can feel the tension in the air rise and then release as such moments arrive and pass, we in the audience knitted into a single entity by our common responses.

Surprises also arise within the sober discursive machines we know of as "lectures." Almost always there will come a moment when the glass of water on the lectern spills, or the power point fails to appear on the screen, or the word dancing on the tip of the speaker's tongue suddenly vanishes. At such moments, a speaker's performance is complicated by a wayward intimacy with the audience that collapses our emotional distance and slows the passage of time. Good speakers use this intimacy to heighten our attention, drawing us in. Already, at the outset of Fractalicious!, Reynolds has radically amplified this effect. In its pauses and its lurches forward, Fractalicious! occupies the middle ground between a lecture and a performance piece, and Reynolds rides the intensive energies flowing back and forth between these two very different cultural topologies. And as it taps an Artaudian delirium, Fractalicious! illuminates the way we constitute and reconstitute ourselves continuously in an embodied and affective fashion that can only be conveyed with any accuracy via performance. Based in critical theory, the performance of Fractalicious! is physically grounded, and this embodiment of conceptual thought is actually among its most provocative artistic claims.

With his first lines, Reynolds evokes closeness as a central theme. …

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