Double Edge Theatre | Review
In 1990, Double Edge Theatre moved from Boston to a converted 100-acre dairy farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts, promoting what it calls a “living culture.” The 30-year-old company’s culture is rooted in theater “based on the art of the actor and their interaction with the communities in which the work takes place,” according to its mission statement. Training its performers in a rural environment, it appears, works wonders for the mind’s eye, but it’s an objective eye that Double Edge often lacks.
Visually speaking, DET’s The Grand Parade (of the Twentieth Century), co-commissioned by the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department and the Dance Center, which previewed this past weekend, is marvelous. From a conceptual perspective, the roughly hour-long misadventure of physical theater, dance and high-flying aerial tricks rides the line between a placid dream and a terrorizing nightmare. About halfway through, it leans toward nightmare. Parade seems bent on finding out how much of a nightmare the audience is willing to stomach. This compact timeline of the 20th century is often a casualty of indulgence with little rhyme or reason, reserving only a few minutes for partial pieces that encompass a hundred-year history, which turns out to be mainly American history. Nothing fully materializes by the time the lights go dim.
Walking into the theater, the audience immediately encounters the Double Edge cast. Actors hang from harnesses and swings; others stand in place: a man in a rooster mask, a woman with wings, a mustached bartender. Parade begins with cacophonous singing and incessant mumbling. The women hum and screech like mythological sirens; the men wander like weary travelers. A white drape dangles overhead as these figures transition from one historical occurrence to another: World War II, the moon landing, the AIDS epidemic and the Bush-versus-Gore debacle, to name a few.
This “kaleidoscopic” exploration is partly based on the artwork of Marc Chagall. The first in a multiyear Chagall series from Double Edge, Parade touches on the abstractions of Chagall’s work, loosely imagining certain visuals for the stage. It’s an ambitious work and somewhat honors Chagall’s aesthetic, yet it packs too much material in too little time. In this bold but convoluted work of intangibles, Parade might find more luck with a bit of the realism it so badly lacks.
For more information on Double Edge Theatre and a schedule of upcoming performances, visit doubleedgetheatre.org.