If you’ve heard this before, stop me: It’s a woman. A man. a tree. An Apple. Belgian provocateur Ontroerend Goed’s performance piece “Are We Pulled Towards a New Age?” presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music in conjunction with the Public Theatre’s Under the Radar festival. this is how it starts. In the first minutes of the show, an apple is plucked and eaten, and a paradise falls to the ground. Then the story changes.
For nearly three decades, this collective (the name is a Flemish pun meaning “real estate feeling”) has provoked theater audiences, sometimes gently, sometimes less gently (“Smile On Your Face”, “A Game of You”). Alexander Devriendt’s “Aren’t We Drawn” is at the more moderate end of that spectrum, although it serves as an allegory about climate destruction.
After the apple is eaten, the tree holding it is smashed by one of the six players. Not everything in the show is completely real; tree too. On Wednesday’s opening night at BAM Fisher’s Fishman Space, the audience groaned as he plucked branch after branch. To be honest I moaned too – that poor defenseless sapling – although at the moment there is a Christmas tree in the corner of my apartment, which is slowly turning into kava. Soon, a rainbow of plastic grocery bags, the kind that was recently banned in New York, fills the scene. (Okay, well, I have a few in my apartment.) Then the smoke starts to rise.
This first half hour, which ends with the stage filling up with rubbish and smoke, is ugly, deliberate, and somewhat incomprehensible. Throughout, there is sparse dialogue rendered without headers. Non-Belgian people in the theater will probably assume he is Flemish. (I did.) Not. This is another show the community plays with their audience, but here it shows better sportsmanship than usual. To say more would ruin the main surprise of the series. But keep in mind that its title is a palindrome, a type of pun where a word or phrase reads the same thing backwards and forwards. So once you move forward, the show must reverse. “Aren’t we pulled” is a parable of disaster, but run the tape backwards and it promises repair instead. He suggests that heaven can be regained.
But if the ideas are shaky, the craftsmanship is surprisingly solid. The team works with incredible precision, selling gestures and movements that might otherwise seem odd or arbitrary. Nothing is arbitrary here. Every step, every syllable has a purpose. And each is tuned to “Disintegration Loops,” a composition by William Basinski designed to be disintegrated.
Maybe thinking too much about the show won’t work. Unless, and probably even then, you do not believe strongly in carbon capture, the chances of humans being able to fix the ecological damage they have done seem slim. The show winks at this, as brute realism has given way to something closer to magic. (A few more winks. At one point, sparks fly through what looks like a mini-circular saw.) Ultimately, I’m not sure if “We’re not drawn” is hopeful or hopeless, a hymn. human effort or futility. It certainly celebrates what a dedicated group of artists can achieve. Isn’t that enough?
Are We Being Drawn to the New Age?
BAM Fisher’s Fishman Space in Brooklyn during Sunday; bam.org. Duration: 75 minutes.