Los Angeles

Guy De Cointet and Bob Wilhite

California Institute Of Technology

Guy De Cointet’s and Bob Wilhite’s third performance, Ramona, was about overlapping sensory perceptions. The eight actors “see” sounds, “hear” sights, and “taste” noises. De Cointet’s script attempts to create a world of carefree unreality and illogic somewhere between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Although both de Cointet and Wilhite are essentially visual artists whose individual works have included performances where the conception was more important than the execution, in Ramona the reverse seems true. Here the play’s the thing. And a very conventional thing it is. The action takes place on an October evening in the present time. Ramona, a painter, has just moved into a California farmhouse overlooking the Pacific. Several friends visit her. Suzanne arrives crying because her lover, John Bentley, disappeared five months ago. John Bentley appears, is reunited with Suzanne, and says he has just escaped from a ship where he was held prisoner. A batty, unnamed woman delivers a hilarious monologue about how helpful her dog Alice was in administering her an adrenalin shot to stop an asthma attack in Lima, Peru.

Ramona was performed outdoors in front of a floodlit 18th-century Spanish facade in Pasadena and had the look of a son et lumière production. The night was balmy; the facade was handsome; the production was professional; and the actresses, to a woman, were stunningly beautiful. But beyond these very pleasant aspects, there seemed to be little of substance here. De Cointet’s ideas about perceptions through unconventional senses seem potentially provocative, but in Ramona they are explored neither deeply nor especially clearly. The non sequiturs in many of the lines seem to serve no purpose: instead of suggesting a topsy-turvy or looking-glass world where conventional logic is reversed or altered to create a system of illogic, they are merely banal. The actors’ characterizations are flat—intentionally, Wilhite says—but it is hard to see what purpose this serves: there are no pronouncements or theories voiced that might be better understood for being thrown into relief against the play’s flatness.

Bob Wilhite’s music throughout the play came from three rather unresonant gongs—a stainless steel circle, a brass triangle, and a copper square—he made for the performance. Wilhite has constructed several musical instruments before, including a silent harp and a good-looking wood-and-glass one-stringed instrument which, he admits, doesn’t sound like much (although it does sound like more than his silent harp). Wilhite says he is more concerned with how his musical instruments look than how they sound, and this curious concern seems akin to de Cointet’s interest in the sound of sights and the taste of noises.

One had the feeling that there were potentially interesting ideas about sensory perceptions lurking below the surface of Ramona. If there were, de Cointet did not articulate them, and below the surface is where they unfortunately remained.

Jeffrey Keeffe