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May 18th, 2011 BEN WATERHOUSE | Performance
 

Uncanny Valley (Hand2Mouth Theatre)

The memory machine is broken.

perf.uncanny-valley_3728IMAGE: Gary Norman
     
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Hand2Mouth, the Portland performance ensemble headed by director Jonathan Walters, is obsessed with memory. While its last several performances have ostensibly been about greed, patriotism, immigration and the reasons we feel the way we do about our families, they all bear a unifying theme of the sharing and airing of personal memories. The company’s new work brings the subtext to the fore, translating the mental labor of remembering into physical effort through the power of jogging.

I suppose some mention of Proust is in order, but I don’t see a lot of literary influence in Uncanny Valley. The performance has the flavor of a very arty pop concert or a very hip religious service, and seems to draw from Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode and Meddle-era Pink Floyd. The performers are engaged in a ritual of memory retrieval. Dressed in oversized green windbreakers and knit cotton jumpsuits, at once shapeless and oddly angular, they jog in and begin a hype-up routine right out of an evangelical aerobics session. Most of the action occurs around the perimeter of a large square of shiny white tiles, angled upward around the edges, which the players leap into, like a mnemonic holodeck, in hopes of reliving lost memories. They work themselves into a liminal state through running, dancing, hopping and hypnotic suggestion, then jump into a memory. Never once does the process work as it’s supposed to—they wind up in the wrong memory, or another person’s memory—but they keep on trying until they are exhausted, and the performance abruptly ends.

Uncanny Valley is more coherent than the company’s other recent work, which is not to say that it makes more sense than Repeat After Me or Everyone Who Looks Like You—performances that seemed logical despite having all the narrative congruity of a Dadaist cut-up—but that it observes the Aristotelian unities of action, place and time. It is fairly polished, with strong choreography and a sound design that’s equal parts hip-hop samples and X-Files spookiness. It is highly self-aware, with multiple asides about the company’s process. It is funny and aesthetically interesting, but for all the cast’s physical exertions, the show feels cold, missing the emotional resonance of previous Hand2Mouth works—as I remember them, anyway.


SEE IT: Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 235-5284. 8 pm Thursdays-Sundays, May 12-22. $12-$18 at boxofficetickets.com.

 
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