Franco-American co-productions have a spotty history (Vivendi Universal, the U.N. Security Council, Spaghetti-O’s, Michael Vartan), but leave it to veteran theater collagist Charles Mee to jell disparate elements into a variegated but united front. The New York troupe Witness Relocation has teamed with the Gallic outfit Collective ildi ! eldi to execute Mee’s latest bricolage with gazelle-like grace and crisp End Times elan. Using dance, monologue, sketch, and audiovisual anarchy, Heaven on Earth treats the possibility of love, fun, and the deep essential silliness of being alive, even amid the collapse of civilization. (And thanks to the often terrifying, occasionally molar-liquefying sound design, you absolutely will believe civilization’s collapsing — on the off chance you didn’t already.) It’s only playing through Sunday, so see it this weekend, before The End comes.
A European hit now enjoying its American premiere, Invasion! is the rare translated show that feels utterly indigenous. The young Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri, in a stunningly funny, ominously good first play, plunges down a Pynchonesque labyrinth, tracking the progress of a mysterious, infectious meme — the name “Abulkasem” — as it links unrelated immigrants and children of immigrants from the Muslim world (all in various stages of Western assimilation) in a web of nonexistent intrigue. The versatile four-person cast doubles for a vast non-conspiracy of coincidence, paranoia, lust, bluff, and blunder, and takes to Erica Schmidt’s lively direction like a poppin’ rock ensemble united behind some invisible front man. Witty and fleet, and always three clicks ahead of our expectations, Invasion! combines the insouciance of prank art with the passionate sincerity of an outsider trying to talk his way in. Who is Abulkasem? Go find out this weekend. He might be you. And if he is/you are? Watch his/your back.
A couple of days ago, I was lucky enough to catch a rehearsal for And All the Question Marks Started to Sing, an “art machine” created by Norwegian collective Verdensteatret. More of a live installation than a narrative performance, Question Marks combines noisemaking “automata” (comprised chiefly of bicycle wheels) with animation filmmakers the Quay Brothers and Ladislav Starevich and (mostly atonal) early electronic music. (I have no opinion on the final version of the show — what I saw was a work in progress — but I’ll admit to being transfixed by a mute accordion that played itself, “gasping” and writhing at stage center.) Apparently, the automata can run without human assistance, but they receive it nonetheless: A crew of four operates the machines, dashing from wheel to wheel like Doctor Who calibrating his Rube Goldbergian TARDIS in midflight. (Minus the Whovian wacky-winky-ness.) With the human race’s Jeopardy! loss to the IBM A.I. “Watson” still smarting, I found their dour Scandinavian presence very comforting. It’s encouraging to see that Skynet still needs plenty of parental encouragement to get through a recital.
Heaven on Earth is at La MaMa through February 27. Invasion! is at Walkerspace through March 13. And All the Question Marks Started to Sing is at DTW’s Bessie Schönberg Theater through February 27.