New York

Creation Company

Ohio Theatre

The ’80s haven’t been a good decade so far for collaborative performance groups; today’s collective-oriented energy seems to have ended up in art rock bands. The Creation Company, founded in 1977 to produce performance/theater works that explore a crossover area between visual arts, video and film, music, dance, and poetry, is one of the few such groups active. Like its ’60s and ’70s inspirations, Creation operates as an ensemble in which permanent members (Matthew Maguire, Susan Mosakowski, and Vito Ricci) are joined by a flexible group of collaborators; the group’s most recent effort, The Commie Stories, was written and directed by co-artistic director Mosakowski, and included the collaborative contributions both of Creation members (Ricci’s atmospheric electronic-music score) and of actors and technicians participating only in this particular production.

As might be expected from Creation’s multifaceted approach and method, The Commie Stories was a performance/theater work in which music, lighting, costumes, and props were given equal emphasis and an equal variety of possible meanings, as were story and characterization. What was striking was the controlled, efficient interweaving of these elements in a precise balancing act which offered a promising model for intermedia theater. Everything within the piece, including its title, was placed in familiar (indeed almost clichéd) Brechtian performance quotes. A program note stated that the stories were based on incidents that occurred when the Creation Company was on tour in East Berlin; however, it went on, “fact blends with fiction,” and the stories were deconstructed into seven seminarrative units which were elaborated, filled out, and reconstructed through multimedia means. In a long, narrow loft, space was repeatedly cut off and deepened by movable wire screens which both quoted the barriers at Berlin’s borders and served as props, backdrops, and wings. Incidents were repeated and paralleled: a “commie” bathroom attendant cheated an American tourist out of change, a “commie” usherette denied her a ticket to the Berliner Ensemble. Emblematic objects kept showing up in different incarnations: successive suitcases were full first of clothing, then of watches, then appeared as a water tank, then as an empty wooden frame. Spotlights directed by the players both referred to border defenses and served their conventional theatrical function, with the metaphorical allusion to being “on the spot” cutting both ways.

The action took place in precisely plotted and choreographed activity; gesture, posture, and attitude were distilled essences of their realistic sources. And the fast-paced movement was glued together, driven forward, and colored by the continuous electronic score. The production swarmed with smart references, from Richard Foreman to Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and the text was riddled with a heavy load of abstract thoughtfulness carried by words like “space,” “time,” “reality,” and “imagination.” The brainy structures of The Commie Stories needed more flesh on their skeletal armatures, but the piece also frequently flashed a mordant wit and even some slapstick humor, and its energy, combined with Creation’s mastery of the basic performance multimedia vocabulary, gave its best moments the pregnant clarity of a classic dream.

John Howell