Generator: Pestilence Part 1

Davi Cohen as Aoua. Original photos by Thoe Cote.
Is there anything to learn from this theatrical experiment?

By Andrew Andrews

Jack Waters and Peter Cramer’s classically-experimental meditation on the AIDS epidemic as a cultural phenomenon is the first of a three-part cycle and most ambitious live performance in the artists’ thirty-five year collaboration.

Beginning in the lobby with an interactive environment of humans dressed in clean-room coveralls, reciting repetitious phrases and improvising contact with spectators, the pre-show highlights an exciting mix of lighting, video and sculptural installations.

After being summoned into the theatre by a character named Technology (Bryce Payne), the audience is treated to an elaborately-costumed, highly-abstract performance comprised largely of interpretive dance accompanied by a minimalist soundtrack that brought to mind Brian Eno.

The impressive cast includes Maddie Schimmel, Ivana Larrosa, Bryce Payne, Lauren Green, JC Augustin, x and Irene Sanchez-Casas.

Although the content of Generator: Pestilence Part 1 seemed 100% original, the overarching theme here is nothing you haven’t seen before if you’re familiar with the genre.

Playing out like a series of loosely-connected, drug-induced hallucinations, the performance is impossible to comprehend without advanced knowledge of the script.

Technology’s monologue is largely irrelevant to the presentation, and your best bet for appreciating the show is to take in the harmonies, random projections and undulating actors the way you might listen to a Pink Floyd album while tripping on acid.

Watching this piece reminded me of a motion picture by a freshman film studies major, who tries to stuff every trick they’ve learned in their first two semesters into their end-of-year project.

If there is such a thing as “classical” experimental theatre, then Generator is the epitome of the category. If you’re of the ilk who feels that the genre has broken from a mold that should have tried harder to contain it, then you’ll certainly appreciate the effort here to return to its roots.

Likewise, if you enjoy interpretive dance with elaborate costumes and aren’t too concerned about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a live performance, you should at least be satisfied.

For everyone else, I’d definitely recommend you arrive early, so you can enjoy the sense of awe and anticipation generated by the whimsical, interactive pre-show. But when the doors to the theater open and Technology beckons you inside, if you head for the exit instead, I don’t think you’ll miss anything you’d end up regretting later.

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Andrew Andrews attended Generator: Pestilence Part 1 at La MaMa Downstairs in New York on Friday, February 21, 2020 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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