The rip­pling ef­fects of an elu­sive dad

Lars Jan weighs is­sues of data, iden­tity and pri­vacy amid fa­ther’s tale at REDCAT.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - CHARLES McNULTY THEATER CRITIC charles.mcnulty @la­times.com

Time veils the past in mys­tery for ev­ery­one, but theater artist Lars Jan’s case is ex­cep­tional. His late fa­ther, an enig­matic Pol­ish­born Cold War op­er­a­tive, re­mains an elu­sive fig­ure de­spite the ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­tary trail he left be­hind.

In “The In­sti­tute of Mem­ory (TIMe),” which con­cluded its world pre­miere run at REDCAT on Sun­day, Jan med­i­tated on the avail­able facts, traced the rip­pling ef­fects of his un­cer­tainty and con­sid­ered some of the broader is­sues con­cern­ing iden­tity, data and pri­vacy — sub­jects that have ig­nited a na­tional de­bate post-Ed­ward Snow­den, who fig­ured play­fully in the piece.

Cre­ated by Early Morn­ing Opera, Jan’s genre-bend­ing per­for­mance lab that sup­plied the col­lab­o­ra­tive team, and pro­duced by the CalArts Cen­ter for New Per­for­mance, this still-ger­mi­nat­ing col­lage was gamely per­formed by Ryan Mas­son and An­nie Saun­ders (both dressed in blind­ing white suits) on a spare, ab­stract set that evoked both an apart­ment study and a ster­ile in­sti­tu­tion. The phys­i­cal pro­duc­tion, which Jan di­rected and de­signed, was metic­u­lously if cryp­ti­cally worked out.

A type­writer was an early fo­cal point, with Nathan Ruyle’s sound de­sign ex­ploit­ing the vin­tage tone of danc­ing keys and an in­ces­santly ding­ing car­riage re­turn. Flu­o­res­cent light bars were re­ar­ranged like a hip­ster game of Lego. Ar­chive boxes lurked on the pe­riph­ery of the play­ing area, their se­crets buried in bu­reau­cratese.

Pablo N. Molina pro­vided back­ground video that was sug­ges­tive rather than il­lus­tra­tive. Christo­pher Kuhl’s light­ing cor­doned off a dis­tinc­tive the­atri­cal world. Orig­i­nal mu­sic by Mar­i­ana Sadovska cast a primeval spell with rit­u­al­is­tic vo­cals.

Un­for­tu­nately, this per­for­mance mélange, which be­gan with ac­tors di­rectly ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence be­fore mov­ing less per­sua­sively into meta-the­atri­cal role-play­ing and high-car­dio move­ment theater, had the ten­ta­tive qual­ity of pre­lim­i­nary re­search notes. The more or less straight­for­ward in­tro­duc­tion set up ex­pec­ta­tions that were me­an­der­ingly sub­verted.

Saun­ders, a wide-rang­ing theater artist who was a cre­ator and cast mem­ber of the im­mer­sive dance-theater piece “The Day Shall De­clare It,” elicited chuck­les from the au­di­ence af­ter in­tro­duc­ing her­self as Lars Hen­rick Jan. (The mood was re­laxed even when the man­ner was highly styl­ized.) She be­came a con­duit for a son’s hazy and in­com­plete mem­o­ries of a dis­tant par­ent.

In­for­ma­tion drib­bled out about Jan’s fa­ther, an econ­o­mist who was born in Poland in 1922 (as most ac­counts have it), be­came a U.S. cit­i­zen and died a bro­ken man with an ex­ten­sive psy­chi­atric file and a shad­owy his­tory that in­ter­sected with 20th cen­tury Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal hor­ror.

The frag­men­tary writ­ing, although marked with lit­er­ary care, failed to ac­crue deeper res­o­nance. But then Jan abruptly switched gears, ar­bi­trar­ily testing other per­for­mance modes, per­haps in an at­tempt to avoid be­ing overly con­fes­sional or sen­ti­men­tal.

One ad­ven­tur­ous, though wob­bly, seg­ment in­volved the ca­sual im­per­son­ation of pho­tog­ra­pher Ansel Adams and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency whis­tle-blower Snow­den — two pi­o­neers of in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies por­trayed by a man and woman who seemed to be work­ing out re­la­tion­ship is­sues not un­re­lated to Jan’s con­found­ing past. The fi­nal sec­tion had Mas­son and Saun­ders run­ning fre­net­i­cally in place while in­ton­ing lines that touched on re­cur­ring the­matic con­cerns but that were far too ran­dom to add up to any­thing co­her­ent.

At this stage of devel­op­ment, “The In­sti­tute of Mem­ory (TIMe)” seems like an ex­per­i­men­tal trial for a fu­ture the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion that’s still fig­ur­ing out the public-pri­vate bal­ance of achingly per­sonal sub­ject mat­ter.

Steve Gun­ther

AN­NIE SAUN­DERS and Ryan Mas­son per­form Lars Jan’s still-ger­mi­nat­ing “In­sti­tute of Mem­ory (TIMe).”

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