Red Fly/Blue Bottle, now at HERE, certainly is pretty to look at, and its blend of spoken word, black and white video, and song can be mesmerizing. But this 75-minute multimedia piece will disappoint and probably confuse those audience members looking for a traditional theater experience.
The show, which features a rock-infused score from Christina Campanella that references styles ranging from Klezmer to grunge, abstractly explores the life of a woman and her boyfriend over the course of several decades. We first meet the woman as “The Old Lady,” an older incarnation of herself (Black-Eyed Susan), through “The Operator” (Campanella) who communicates with the reclusive woman via homemade radio. Operator also channels back through time to the moment when Clarissa (Jesse Hawley), the younger incarnation of “Old Lady,” says goodbye to her boyfriend, “The Man” (Chris Lee).
He’s going off to war and during their final moments together, a clock that he holds in his hands shatters. A spring from this timepiece and few other belongings, such as a cufflink and a pin, which Clarissa finds after he’s gone, will be all that she can hold onto as a memory of him. As time passes and he doesn’t return, she assumes he’s dead and gives up hope: hence her reclusiveness in old age. In actuality though, it seems that he is captured and tortured, and when he does return, well, that broken clock can’t be fixed: there’s no way to turn back time.
The creators have sought to create something that resembles a musical “installation,” and their concentration on the ambitious combination of music and video within an abstracted, shifting, and actually quite gorgeous, sculptural environment (by scenic designer Jim Findlay) is impressive. But the storytelling — in its traditional sense of the world — suffers, often leaving theatergoers baffled as to the significance of certain video images or the meaning of lyrics.
For instance, late in the piece, video designer Peter Norrman offers a stunning sequence of images of spiders moving through their webs. Fleischmann’s lyrics cleverly play on the old nursery rhyme of “come into my parlor said the spider to the fly,” and yet, while the music plays and the images flicker across the white rolling panels that act as screens, it’s difficult to decipher the artists’ intent. One wonders if Red Fly has somehow shifted back into an earlier era in Clarissa’s relationship with Man, or if the “parlor” is indeed a metaphor for the torture chamber in which Man finds himself while away at war.
There’s no denying that this sequence and many others are visually and aurally captivating, but the work as a whole doesn’t fully succeed in spite of its exceptional design achievements.