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Use your allusion: Fovea Floods’ Paul Pry.

Dream Until Your Dreams Come True
By John Rodat

Paul Pry
Written and directed by Josh Chambers

Boces/New Visions Studio Theatre, through march 30

Saratoga Stages’ presenta- tion of the Fovea Floods production Paul Pry deserves praise for accomplishing one of the rarest feats in performing arts: living up to the publicity material.

The promo stuff claims that the “company’s epic work employs cinematic techniques and sensory bombardment to produce shows that are visual, explosive and literate,” and, sure enough, Paul Pry fit the bill. The production is so richly visualized, so textured and so potently—if obscurely—imaginative as to be overwhelming. And the troupe, under the direction of the show’s author, Josh Chambers, performs Paul Pry with such surety and physical precision as to give the effect of a Cirque du Soleil performance. The play’s 15 scenes unfold into one another, symbol giving way to symbol, with a frantic dreamlike logic. The viewer hardly has time to process one tableau before another is presented: phalluses and flowers, skulls and spray paint, surgeons and spectral spouses. It is a show designed, seemingly, to kick the viewer’s ass. And on the whole, it succeeds.

But is it good?

On my way out of the BOCES/New Visions Studio Theatre after the play, I heard one attendee complaining enthusiastically, “That was terrible! That was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen!” as her companions tried to explain to her that it was avant-garde, that it was meant to be challenging. I think she remained unconvinced. And, I suspect, other less-vocal theatergoers may have had some similar internalized confusion: “Wow, that knocked me out—I don’t get it.”

The story on which Chambers’ vision is draped is that of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, in which there are malevolent goblins, conjuring women, a frog king, the titular Snow Queen, mirrors of demonic manufacture and all variety of threats, oddities and obstacles strewn on the path between two separated siblings. Chambers and Fovea Floods animate these elements gorgeously, and choreograph them to an eerie, pulsing, mechanistic guitar-and-sound-effect soundtrack that heightens the tension to fitting brittleness. At one point, the sister searching for her missing brother is herself captured and spends an amnesiac year in the company of the Woman Who Conjures. To illustrate the passage of time, Chambers has positioned his actors behind sliding doors, which open and shut rapidly to reveal his troupe posed in seasonally themed friezes, each as defined, intricate and enticing as a Caravaggio.

The problem was that these scenes had immediate impact, but little cumulative effect in terms of the story’s advancement. The choice of fairy-story framework makes sense for a play lacking dialog, as most of us are familiar enough with the genre’s conventions to know implicitly that the evildoers will receive their comeuppance and the siblings will reunite to, more or less, live happily ever after. However, the density and laudable force of each individual image raised expectations that message would match medium. With the exception of some introductory parodies of psychopharmaceutical ads played on overhead plasma screens, there was little added to Andersen’s tale in narratological terms. And even those amusing bits seemed extraneous by play’s end; if they were meant as clues to a theme or superimposed subplot, I could not follow them through the (visually exciting) tangle of imagery.

The overall effect was indeed dreamlike, but it was someone else’s dream: fascinating, intriguingly weird, often beautiful but, ultimately, short on significance. The play impressed me, but it did not move me.

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