For the reason that pandemic started, American courts have moved tens of millions of hearings on-line, a improvement generally known as “digital justice.” Carl Hancock Rux’s elliptical “Vs.” adapts digital justice as digital theater. On this court docket, the crime stays unnamed and the id of the accused a thriller. The interrogator? That may be you. Or at the least, a silhouette of you, with some delicate technological wizardry superimposing another person’s deep voice atop your blacked-out define. Anyway, select your Zoom background with care.
On the prime of “Vs.,” a digital expertise directed by Mallory Catlett and produced by Mabou Mines, a court docket clerk gathers its members into a web-based chamber. A person (David Thomson) is known as as a witness. A witness to what? The interrogator — the function is split, seemingly randomly, amongst viewers members — asks solely two questions: If the witness would love a drink and if the witness was born in November. The witness responds to every with contempt, questioning the court docket’s values and style. Right here’s a part of his reply on the birthdate subject: “Not if we’re to contemplate an opposition to phallogocentricism and the hegemonic beliefs contained in patriarchal tradition uniting idea and fantasy, difficult such discourse inside the frameworks of a structure blown up by legislation.” Pity the stenographer.
Following this primary sequence, the questioning repeats thrice, with completely different viewers members because the interrogator and different performers — Becca Blackwell, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Perry Yung — enjoying witnesses. The dialogue stays largely the identical, with a number of variations, as if these are 4 musicians, every soloing on the identical tune. The small print by no means grow to be extra particular.
A cryptic trial pursuing a anonymous crime will in fact convey the works of Franz Kafka to thoughts. Although “Vs.” is extra of a reverse Kafka, with the witnesses disdaining the court docket’s authority. “It’s your court docket,” every says. “Do as you would like. I’m not in it. I by no means was.” The court docket appears confused. Me, too, if I’m sincere.
Rux, a breathlessly ingenious multimedia artist, made an exhilarating entrance about 20 years in the past with “Speak,” an impressionistic puzzle field of a play about artwork, race, reminiscence and energy. “Speak” took a panel dialogue as its type, inhabiting and deconstructing its rituals. So there was motive to hope that “Vs.” would convey that very same ingenuity to a Zoom courtroom. However the present meshes with the medium solely glancingly, largely by a manipulation of speaker view and digicam feed. It hasn’t absolutely thought of what sorts of narrative, imagery and speech inhabit this house efficiently. A textual content this dense, spoken by performers considered from the chest up, their faces and our bodies awash in visible results, suffers with out the mutual entanglement of actors and audiences each current in the identical house. Through a web-based platform, my skill to soak up and parse the language appeared to recede with every repetition. Engagement was digital, not precise.
I don’t take any pleasure on this inattention. It could possibly characterize an unpleasant sort of privilege. As a result of in case your life or physique or lived expertise had been actually on the road, you wouldn’t have the luxurious of distraction. However the abstraction of “Vs.” has a deadening impact. In that Zoom window, my face a void, I didn’t really feel particularly accountable or implicated, simply anxious about whether or not or not any fidgeting (I’m an inveterate fidgeter) would upset the phantasm.
Whilst reside performances return, I’m longing for theater artists to experiment with digital instruments, discovering new potentialities and new transmedia types. Nonetheless, “Vs.” seems like a mistrial.
Via Aug. 8; maboumines.org. Operating time: 55 minutes.