FORUM: Removed from Realityposted on October 18th, 2010 by Liz Lehman
Insite’s Student Forum begins the 2010-11 season with a round of student responses to recent performances of JET LAG. Liz Lehman starts us off with her critique below. Visit Student Forum to read more by Amanda Bell, Thomas J. Foy, and Lisa Zalenski—all offering different perspectives on The Builders Association’s multilayered integration of technology and live performance. These critiques were written for Dr. Neil Baldwin’s class Introduction to the Theatrical Medium and fulfill the mission of Montclair State’s Creative Research Center, directed by Dr. Baldwin, to spotlight exemplary student writing.
Going into JET LAG, it is easy to get caught up in the technology that makes the piece so unique in its storytelling. Jets take off on a screen in front of you, and you can feel the rumbling beneath your feet. You can explore the open sea with an amateur sailor without ever leaving the theater. The visual and auditory effects are so immersive that it is easy to get overwhelmed.
However, JET LAG is not about wowing the audience with its groundbreaking technology. It is a study in the technology that is available to all of us, every day, and the dangerous consequences of that technology being used to escape conventional reality.
The piece tells two distinct yet fundamentally similar stories, one after another, both focusing on travel as a means to tell their tales. The first “act” centers around a British sailor, entered in a round-the-world yacht race. His story is told through videos he films of himself, which appear behind him on a large screen, and media reports of his falsified progress, told by actors who sit behind plates of glass, which are opaque in one light and transparent in another. The audience is thus able to become intimate with his character and to feel the isolation he is subject to, being able to see only him and the people he communicates with. All goes well until reporters ask the sailor for more-detailed descriptions of his journey, to which he has no response, as he has been sailing in circles for months, giving the media false information about his travels. The pressure eventually becomes too much for him, and he disconnects his radio. When we next see him, he has descended completely into madness and decides he would rather end his life than face society again.
The second story revolves around a woman paranoid about the future of her grandson, alarmed by his schoolteacher’s suggestion that he seek counseling for the death of his mother. Misinterpreting this as a serious threat of his getting sent away, she and the child make dozens of flights between New York and Paris to evade the father. As time wears on, the old woman becomes delusional from jet lag and eventually dies. The grandson’s flight simulator video game is displayed on the screen behind the two travelers as he loses, trying to keep in the air but ultimately spiraling downward.
The protagonists of both stories try their best to escape from the pressures they face every day but become separated from both time and space in the process. The sailor in the first story believes that on his boat he has no need for location or date, manipulating both of these elements in his reports home. He is still tethered to reality as long as he stays in contact with other people, but as soon as he removes himself from all human contact, the emptiness and lack of structure of his world drive him insane. The grandmother and her son remain in contact with other people but remain suspended outside of reality, without a specific location or set time. The grandson at one point reminds his grandmother that they are in “zero time” and that it can, in fact, be any time they want it to be. The grandson is ultimately able to adapt to this new reality, while the grandmother tries to manipulate it and fails.
The technology could have been superfluous and overdone, taking away from the story and making a spectacle of what can be done onstage today. However, while the technology is impressive and revolutionary, it only adds to the storytelling. The visual effects certainly provide an impressive backdrop for the players, but I was more taken with the auditory effects. What is white noise to begin with slowly and imperceptibly morphs into a chilling and ominous soundtrack with a hallucinatory quality. Not only do we see the onset of madness in the characters—we feel it.
JET LAG’s message is of the utmost relevance. Perhaps few people are able to physically escape the confines of time and space, but many people mentally sever themselves from reality. The internet came to my mind several times over the course of the production; like our protagonists, almost anyone is able to create their own reality online. People become incredibly caught up in their false lives, and while their downfall may not be as severe as the ones evidenced in JET LAG, the consequences are still great.
Liz Lehman is a freshman Theatre Studies major in MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, College of the Arts, and a student in Dr. Neil Baldwin’s class Introduction to the Theatrical Medium.