HELLO BLACKOUT (New Paradise Labs): 2017 Fringe review

And it was all yellow
And it was all yellow

In the promo images for HELLO BLACKOUT!, New Paradise Labs’ creation myth, the cast is set on a yellow backdrop, blasted by unseen forces, windtossed, frightened, and a little comical. Around them fly battered domestic objects: frames, blenders, lamps.

We see this yellow world tangentially in Matt Saunders’ set, which is utterly black with a tall door cut slantwise into a back wall; the hallway it opens upon is saturated in yellow light. BLACKOUTopens with a series of dimly lit panoramas in this space, framed temporally by complete blackouts. Performers appear out of darkness to stand in clumps, or singly, or scattered individually across the stage, then there is another blackout. Composer Bhob Rainey’s haunting arrangement, played by a live five-piece orchestra performs, offsets the transitions, blurring presence and absence, here and nowhere, sometimes swelling in blackout and dying during the light.

Jeffery Cousar appears in a dim light. His torso is still, but his hands, knees, head shudder back and forth, at times in unison, at times individually. It looks like a computer glitch, a skipping video, but at the same time like some blurry deep-sea creature, the image just difficult enough to perceive to feel horrific, possibly dangerous. The greatest achievement in Hello Blackout! might be the development of a convincingly proto-human body, and later, a curiously unrecognizable physical language. BLACKOUT is both an evolution and a prequel of their 2016 performance O Monsters, and it is ultimately more engrossing, more alienating, and more disciplined than its predecessor.

[The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 1512 Spruce Street] September 5-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/hello-blackout/.

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