The Wild Project, New York City
The Wild Project has opted to use the phrase "in-yer-face" in describing the (mostly) 1990s phenomenon of new, young writers whose work was committed to shocking and sickening its audience through direct confrontation with baser human instincts and behaviours, as per a review from a contemporary critic. I've also heard the term "brutalism" or "new brutalism" used, primarily when discussing works by these and other writers. The subtle-but-present difference between these two terms and, for me at least, their connotations, is that anything loud and obnoxious can be "in-yer-face" - but for a work to become brutal, it needs to shock and horrify on a deeper level.
In this, it appears that the Wild Project have chosen the right term to reference for their production of Stitching. Audiences already familiar with the work will find the performances intense and intoxicating; Meital Dohan (Abby) from the word go and Gian Murray Gianino (Stu) quickly following her after a brief warm-up.
They ride the rollercoaster of Neilson's temporally-displaced tale together, into a nightmare relationship where despite sharing a deep love (or so we're told), the smallest nugget of conversation can - and often does - explode into fractious, sexually-charged, no-holds-barred arguments. Their mutual adoration - which seems to be primarily of a sexual nature - is ultimately too destructive a force for them to override, and as they careen from one scene to the next, it is a struggle to keep up with them and ultimately obtain a clear view of what the story is about.
This production, with its bold, loud explosions of emotion and physical entanglement, certainly gets into the faces of its audiences in some ways, but there is also a strange detachment/divide between the stage and the rest of the auditorium. Monologues are played out over recordings until near the very end of the play, and after hearing the rich qualities of both Dohan and Gianino's voices live, it is disappointing that the sound quality isn't better. The final monologue, where Gianino addresses the audience directly, is far more intimate - and therefore, more chilling - striking a chord deeper than simple surface shock and driving at a colder helplessness in the face of destructive love.
Watching the actions unfold in a realistic setting - Stu and Abby's flat could be any one-bedroom apartment in any city, as this version - with its seamless Americanization of language - proves - should move Abby's final act of self-mutilation away from the bizarre fantasy and toward more hardline reality. This is not the case. Rather, in its last moments Stitching seems catapulted into impossibility; as Paul pleads to understand why she's mutilated herself, the audience is affected both by his question, and by the sheer human impossibility of what has taken place. At times, the realism gives one pause, as in the multiple costume changes - this seems like a clumsy device to connotate when we move forward and backward along Abby and Stu's respective timelines.
Overall this is a strong production which will satisfy fans of in-yer-face theatre and probably wouldn't alienate newcomers to that creative school, in that it relies on Neilson's bold and no-holds-barred language rather than visual or physical brutality to shock.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody