In October 2015, Bessie Award-winning choreographer Faye Driscoll brought “Thank You for Coming: Attendance” to the Institute of Contemporary Art’s stage. On Friday at the ICA, we got part two of Driscoll’s projected trilogy. “Thank You for Coming: Play,” which debuted at Ohio State University in September 2016, promises to “lay bare the dichotomous experience of self and the performance of self; of being among and being alone; of communion and alienation.” You might expect “Play” to be fun, but this second installment is painfully serious, and pretentious to boot.
At the beginning of the intermissionless 100-minute piece, you’re seated on the floor of the stage, clustered around a large square of white panels covered with wearable items from a theater costume shop, or maybe your grandparents’ attic. The six performers, in street clothes, offer these to various audience members. Other viewers, in groups, are invited to chant statements like “You know who I am” and “No but I’m glad we met.” (Some of these involve four-letter expletives.) Golf pencils and index cards with different questions are distributed, and you’re asked to write down where you ran away to as a child or what you want or what you miss.
After 25 minutes, you repair to the theater’s regular seating area while five of the performers redeploy the white floor panels into a playing space, strip down to their underwear, and start to dress up in the costuming. (Driscoll remains in black shirt and pants throughout.)
What follows seems more exorcism than play, as they narrate and act out, with childlike exaggeration, the tedious story of Barbone, whose mother has suffered abuse from her father and her new boyfriend. Mom and Barbone go to the city where would-be star Barbone is primed to “make it big, bigger than Judy, bigger than Liza” but instead winds up working in a butcher shop. Driscoll leads the audience in an anxiety sing-along, but the climax of this section is her own “I don’t know where this rage comes from” solo, where it’s evident the rage comes from an unnamed president who “manipulates reality” and “doesn’t believe in climate change.”
The final half-hour finds the performers back in street clothes and standing before the audience to share their feelings about being lonely. Some of what they “say” is only mouthed, as if they were inviting us to read their body language, but their words are banal and their movements look stereotyped. After that, some 20 audience members leave their seats and form an audience on the darkened stage as Driscoll, using a tiny flashlight, makes a kind of biographical story out of the index-card answers.
The program is handed out only at the end of the show; when you scan it and see listed a “Local Ensemble” of 20, you realize those apparent audience members, the ones who were chanting when we were all on the floor, were performers all along. That might not seem like fair play. But at the very start of the show, the six performers also looked like audience members, so the message here is that you never really know. That’s “Play” at its best.
Thank You for Coming: Play
Presented by Faye Driscoll. At Institute of Contemporary Art, Friday.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org