Saturday, 20 June 1998
Chicago Chicago System 98, NYID, June 20, 1998
Chicago Chicago System 98 by Not Yet It's Difficult
Athenaeum II until July 4, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed around 19 June 1998
Making an 'old' play relevant is a popular pastime. John Bell dragged Henry IV into soccer-mad England. The Club recently translated easily to our 90's corporate sport era. Such productions generally adhere to original text; not so David Pledger's adaptation of John Romeril's Chicago Chicago with contemporary performance company, NYID.
Not Yet It's Difficult creates challenging, physical theatre that incorporates new media and deconstructs text, attacks social norms, and political systems. Chicago Chicago System 98 is no exception.
The original Romeril play was much longer with 20 scenes. NYID has nipped, tucked and reconstructed the old dame, scaling it down to 75 minutes. The audience, seated initially on rough benches on two sides of an almost empty space was subsequently moved twice more..
Video footage by Paul Hosking is projected onto a scruffy wall. It uses a complex collage of wry imagery filched from television journalism, game shows and CD Rom. Characters are under constant surveillance by hidden cameras. The space remains 'live', unpredictable and constantly questions the relationship of audience to actor and character to state. Romeril wrote "a protest against the American way of life" which is now also an indictment of contemporary Australia.
There is a narrative about a man "who will later be known as 'The Victim' (Greg Stone) who appears to be a politician on the campaign trail. Two mock audience members (Carole Patullo & Tom Considine) voice our own confusion as it is revealed that George may be undergoing rehab and is suffering delusions.
NYID's ironic take on theatre is never far from the surface. Considine's character grapples valiantly with the sub-text of the play. His wife is distracted by worries about their front light being left on. Pledger appears on screen as a pretentious American critic commenting on Romeril, with a portrait of the artist as backdrop.
Any whiff of self-indulgence is undercut by such cynical representation. There is no program to assist us, which is a relief. Too much contemporary performance relies on notes to make itself comprehensible.
The chorus of performers (Paul Bongiovanni, Danielle Long, Kha Tran Viet, Tamara Saulwick) wear suits and sunglasses and employ the NYID's signature style of crisp, abstracted gesture and choral vocalisation.
The piece requires enormous concentration, as this is no simple narrative with pretty costumes. Although not as cohesive, stylish or expensive as NYID's 1997 Austral-Asian Post Cartoon Sports Edition, it challenges one's view of the theatre space, action, audience and narrative.. That can only be a good thing.