A gothic conjuring of loneliness and grief played in plain sight
Ada/Ava (Underbelly Potterow) Haunting
Underbelly has enjoyed considerable success down the years with innovative, puppet noir shows, (Alvin Sputnik, bruce, It’s dark Outside). This european Premiere of Ada/Ava, by Chicago’s Manual Cinema looks set to continue that run. Covering plenty of bases – multimedia, live music, shadow puppets, performance – the show is basically a live animated movie, with the whole troupe (puppeteers, musicians, actors) in plain sight on stage the whole time while their ‘movie’ takes shape on the big screen above.
If that sounds like Manual Cinema are the Penn and Teller of theatre, i.e, they don’t mind showing you how they work their magic, it’s entirely intentional.
A two-tier performance, part of the appeal lies in watching the performers dexterously navigate through a combination of paper cutouts, transparancies, projector slides, and live action shadow work to deliver the action on screen. For some this might be distracting and cause an emotional disconnect with the story.
The plot is fairly simple. elderly identical twins Ada and Ava live in a seaside village overshadowed by a lighthouse. every night, they drink tea and play chess against a background of silhouette portraits of their lives down the ages.
but when Ava dies, Ada is left to come to terms not only with her grief, but also the disorientating isolation and loneliness that comes with having to adapt to life for one, and being left to your own thoughts, nightmares, and memories. From here the show develops a haunting, dizzying, expressionistic dreamscape all its own, played out against an eerie score and mainly black and white landscape that is pure new england Gothic.
The atmosphere a cross between Tim burton’s Corpse bride and edward Gorey, there might not be a word of dialogue spoken here, but there’s plenty thrown into the pot to touch the heart strings.
At times the narrative can leave you as disorientated as Ada. but the symbolism overload is compensated by aide memoires of beauty, such as a portrait of the twins as young girls holding a balloon come to life.
Underbelly Potterow (Topside), until August 29