Sheila Dabney (left) and company in Red Noir
(© Kennedy Yanko)
Sheila Dabney (left) and company in Red Noir
(© Kennedy Yanko)
The Living Theatre, under the stewardship of Judith Malina and the late Julian Beck, have been cranking out theater aimed at our collective conscience -- or at least that part opposed to war, commercialism, and heterodoxy. It's newest offering, Anne Waldman's Red Noir, fits neatly in that vein. There's a head-nod towards a noirish plot, but plot is beside the point. Really, so too, is text. The evening is about experiencing a collective -- first as audience, then as participant.

Over the course of the play's 85-minute running time, Malina's direction only occasionally focuses on the central action, which involves a bad man, a red dress, redress, and a grandmother and granddaughter reading. The real event is the large ensemble, circling the audience, chanting, stomping, insisting on anarchy. Eventually, they take our chairs (some of which are used to spell out "do no harm") and pull us into their whirling games.

For those who cringe at audience participation, stay far, far away. The ensemble is both touchy and feely and won't hesitate to drag you into a dance or give a close, lingering hug to a reticent bystander. Throughout, the text continues somewhere in the background, giving you a sense of just how unimportant it is.

As welcoming as the performers were, I never fully gave over to the scrum, in large part because of the weird disconnect of seeing methods that were once radical and aggressive feel positively quaint. Sure, it's fun enough to be hauled into what's essentially the Act One finale of Hair, but the experience is more nostalgic than provocative. Still, if you manage to share a moment of impromptu motion (or emotion) with another person, that's more than you get from most evenings in the theater.