FORUM: Innovation That Lacks Focusposted on October 18th, 2010 by Thomas J. Foy
When talking about a piece as complex and multileveled as JET LAG, it’s only fair to break the piece down into two parts: firstly, the story of Roger Dearborn, then the tale of Doris Geller and Lincoln Schwartz. Each part is unique in its own way but shares a similar message. JET LAG presents this message in a unique way that seems unfocused. The use of multimedia was daring and maverick but sometimes too much.
In the first part of JET LAG, a man named Roger Dearborn enters a race around the world by boat. Dearborn begins to keep a fake log of where he is on his journey while he is actually just sailing in circles off the coast of South America. The Builders Association and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the group that produced this production, used many tricks to create the illusion of being on a boat. A live camera shot the actor, who controlled the rocking of the screen to simulate a boat out at sea. This feed was put on a giant screen on stage so the audience could easily view it. This image was often manipulated, especially toward the end of the show. They also used a delay on a microphone the actor used when sending in transmissions. The delay got to be a strain on the audience, hearing parts of lines multiple times while having others trying to respond got to be a headache at times. The effect was to create dissonance and further establish the “jet lag” between Dearborn and the rest of the world.
Overall, I felt the video and sound effects worked to create the illusions necessary, but at the same time the production seemed more like a movie rather than a live stage event. Yes, the performance was live, but the audience spent more time looking at a giant screen and stock footage than watching the actors. If you were to put the same script and effort into making this part a short film rather than a play, it would work much better. That medium is more conducive to what The Builders Association seemed to be aiming for.
The second part of JET LAG is where the piece gets its title. It is the story of a grandmother, Doris Geller, and her grandson, Lincoln Schwartz. In order to save her grandchild, Geller takes Lincoln on over 140 transcontinental trips by plane from New York to Paris. By doing this they stay in a state of “no time,” for they are always switching time zones. Throughout, there is less technology to rely on. The screen remains on stage but only serves as a backdrop through most of the action. Every now and again, stock security footage is shown of Geller and Schwartz in the airport. However, even through these parts, there is usually action going on by the front of the stage.
Here the technology used advances the idea that the story provokes and seems vital to performance. The screen here provides just a setting for the audience to see. The effect of the moving walkways and escalators helped to establish the setting but also kept the idea that these people were always moving no matter what. The sound effects weren’t as dramatic as the delay in part one, but they served a vital purpose. In this piece the only sound effects were plane noise and extraneous noise from the airport. As the play continues and our characters become more and more jet lagged the noise begins to blur, and everything is seemingly muffled. This effect, combined with the actors’ body language, helped establish the feeling of jet lag. The only thing that the audience is left with is a lack of a deeper understanding as to why these people are doing what they do.
Both of these pieces strike a chord in the viewer. Each part creates its own feel and definition of “jet lag”; however, at times, the story suffers in place of the multimedia effects. The ideas and message are there, but sadly most audience members can’t seem to find it among the delayed microphone and extraneous noise.
What should be focused more is the heart of this piece: These characters are searching for something that most people don’t ever wonder about. As Chuck Palahniuk asked, so do these characters, “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”
Thomas J. Foy is a freshman BFA acting student 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.