Monday, November 21, 2011

Theater: Newyorkland

Going to the theater twice in a week? I don’t know who I am anymore.

Years ago I spent the better part of an hour running through the Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) at the New York Police Museum. An NYPD officer gave us a brief weapons course and then put us through our paces, replaying scenarios with subtle variations so that we could understand how little information cops have when they walk into a situation and how quickly an encounter could escalate out of control. It was a powerful experience – I still brood over a split-second hesitation that resulted in my partner getting shot – one that made it impossible for me to make knee-jerk judgments about the actions of law enforcement officers.

Those memories came back to me last night during Newyorkland, an intense theater piece by the company Temporary Distortion at Seattle’s On The Boards. An assemblage of live performance and film, Newyorkland aims to illuminate the challenges of police work, specifically the psychological distance cops often feel from the people they are charged with protecting.

The presentation is immersive and assaultive. The audience walks in under the disinterested eyes of the cast in uniform, the Beastie Boys thrumming overhead. Everyday squad room sounds like keyboards and telephones are amplified. There’s a roll call, a litany of radio requests, and heartbreaking monologues drawn from interviews with actual New York cops.

Inventive use of lights, sound and staging create an endlessly fluid production; Newyorkland isn’t directed so much as misdirected, the theatrical sleight of hand continually impressive. The closing moments are somewhat muddled, but the overall effect reminds you that there is an individual inside every police officer’s uniform.

Temporary Distortion will perform Newyorkland, appropriately enough, in New York in January. See it if you can. Here’s the preview trailer.

Newyorkland Trailer from Temporary Distortion on Vimeo.