Under the Radar: JDX — a public enemy and The Record
A look at two entries in the Public Theater's annual festival of experimental works.
The Belgian theater collective STAN (Stop-Thinking-About-Names) bursts onto the New York theater scene with JDX — a public enemy, a Dutch-language adaptation (with English supertitles) of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. Aside from tables, chairs, and dress suits, this fast-paced evening doesn't feature props, sets, or costumes of any kind; instead, the four performers and one prompter (who reads stage directions) put the drama across using an old-fashioned thing called acting.
An Enemy of the People follows one man's quest to do good for his town, only to be brandished a public enemy by his fellow citizens. Dr. Tomas Stockman has discovered that the water in the public thermal baths is being polluted. The doctor sets out to make this fact known — except it would bankrupt the city. It's a situation that pits brother against brother; Dr. Stockman's only sibling is the town's mayor.
As played with fierce and fiery conviction by the members of STAN — Frank Vercruyssen as Tomas, Damiaan De Schrijver as Peter (and others), Jolente De Keersmaeker as Tomas' wife Katrina (and others), and Sara De Roo as the Stockman daughter Petra (and others) — JDX — a public enemy is a fascinating experience from start to finish. While the company's technique of performing without the trappings of theater doesn't always illuminate the text, they do manage to create a clear story and through-line that translates beyond language barriers. Considering how quickly each actor spits out his or her dialogue in Dutch (there were points where the supertitles needed time to catch up), this is the most impressive feat of all.
The words "gym class," "calisthenics," "yoga," and "Presidential Physical Fitness Test" came to mind while watching The Record, a wordless hour-long show by the American troupe 600 Highwaymen, a group devoted to "constructing events that create intimacy among a group of strangers." The piece features 35 average people (not actors) performing different poses, exercises, and stances while musician Brandon Wolcott (who is, in a sense, acting more like a DJ) and cellist Fjóla Evans perform music.
As directed by 600 Highwaymen founders Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, The Record is alternately soporific and mesmerizing. You can zone out and still not miss anything, but if you pay full attention, you get sucked into this strangely soothing and extraordinarily calm world. By the end, The Record has become a time for personal meditation, a sort of seated shavasana where you can feel your heart beating within your ribs, and your stomach falling and rising as you take each breath.
A lack of information or director's statement about the piece is somewhat frustrating, but by the time the experience is over, you feel too blissed out to care.