By: Paulanne Simmons
April 3, 2018 – The Berlin collective Gob Squad works collaboratively with performance, video installation and interactive theater to produce innovative and challenging works. As with all such endeavors, the results range from brilliant to mundane. Their newest work War and Peace is a little of both.
Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novel about the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic Era, this production features Sean Patton, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost, Simon Will and three audience members who become guests at a 19th century style salon. After a brief introduction of all participants, both professional and non-professional (this is indeed the best part of the evening), they sit around a table where the actors engage the volunteers in gentle chitchat.
Prompted by Gob Squad members, the amateur performers are encouraged to become their outrageous best, which they do with varying success. Hint: as bad as it can be to see professional actors ham it up, when wannabes get too ambitious the result soon becomes boring and repetitive.
The above interactions are recorded on video, so the audience gets a close-up of every tick the actors and their assistants can produce. But there’s also videos of the actors’ reactions to Tolstoy’s work, as well as his unforgettable characters. There’s even a bit of dance and a fine rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
At the top of the evening the audience is told they aren’t going to learn too much about the actual plot of the novel. If that’s what they’re interested in, they are encouraged to read the book. Instead, what we get is a few of Tolstoy’s themes and lots of riffing on those themes.
This works well for the first half of the show. But at almost two hours, with no intermission, the play may exhaust all but those with the greatest fortitude or the most appetite for this kind of theater. After all, only three members of the audience actually get to eat any of that good food spread out on the table!
Gob Squad: War and Peace runs through March 31, 2018 at NYU Skirball, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, www.nyuskirball.org.