Robert Wilson and David Byrne, the Knee Plays

Alice Tully Hall

The Knee Plays, a collaborative mixed media opera, almost effortlessly achieved the kind of successful melding of theatrical elements that most other such performances strain for. Its 13 scenes were originally planned as individual entr’actes between scene changes within the five long sections (each virtually an entire piece in itself) of the CIVIL warS, Robert Wilson’s global performance opera. Like all of Wilson’s architecturally interwoven visual stagework, the design motifs in each “knee play” were supposed to introduce the scene that each vignette preceded (the term comes from vaudeville, referring to the “joints”—short skits_between the big acts). Pulled out of the twice-aborted grand production and combined to make an ad hoc “American Section” of the opera, the Knee Plays surprisingly congealed into a coherent, satisfying performance on its own terms. Although not as profoundly

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