POOR PEOPLE'S ROOM
April 28, 2017
Poor People's TV Room unfolds as the audience enters the theater. Separated spaces fill the stage and are inhabited by the dancers already in motion. Four performers, including the creator Okui Okpokwasili, slink around, under the blanket, in front of the plastic wall, behind the plastic wall, and posed gracefully in a chair. As the soundscape, designed in part by collaborator Peter Born, echos through the theater, it unsettles nerves, particularly when the bass is so extreme, each member of the audience feels the sounds deep in their bones.
As the performance continues, the set becomes clear. Downstage left is a spotlight and two chairs, used to house conversationalist moments between performers. Upstage right, divided from the chairs by a long cord adorned with one suspended sage light, is a more unique space- a vertical living room. Filmed from above and projected onto a monitor, the setup projects the illusion of the performers standing upright on the monitor when they are in fact laying on the set.
It is a truly dizzying performance on all accounts. Often people speak over each other manufacturing unintelligible word patterns, while across the stage this sideway teleplay continues. Cut through by a plastic sheet, the downstage action is mirrored in the blurry figure just beyond the barrier. The lighting changes the shape of the bodies, casting shadows and moving along with the dancers. Suspended between the floor and the ceiling, one stage light is swung around with the bodies towards the end. No fear of darkness, the piece staccatos through the lighting, unnerving and engrossing the viewer.
Rhythm is also a key component to this work. Heavy footfalls reverberate through the empty spaces. Each way of speaking holds a cadence unique and intense. One moment in particular is riddled with sharp angular movements that quickly shift from one way of jutting out arms to another. The chests, always tight whether in contraction or release, form a strong insular energy that radiates with each shift of the body. Angular, decisive movements are reflected in the thematic language. "Oprah," breath, usefulness and other ideas keep appearing as people speak pointing and building towards a larger theme.
Okpokwasili composed and sang some of the musical score and when she did a lightness and air entered into the space. In these moments of lightness, the audience can sink into the performance and see better the dark moments that perforate through the work. A phenomenal evening in a world of it’s own, Okpokwasili has created a work worth viewing.