August 19, 2019

Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival

Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival


She intertwines her family’s pioneer past and the parentage secrets it kept with an account of her struggles with infertility. This is forbidding stuff, but Ms. Coloff’s touch is light, her presence warm. She’s not sentimental — and idiosyncratic touches, like a giant red bonnet, an enormous hand-stitched denim cape and tough-to-pin-down lyrics, keep things helpfully weird — but she isn’t unemotional. She is, simply, honest.

These aren’t the only productions in this year’s Prototype, presented by Beth Morrison Projects and the arts center HERE. “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” composed by Graham Reynolds and with a libretto by the collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, is a cozy, bilingual, semistaged oratorio for two singers (including the soaringly sweet tenor Paul Sanchez) and a rollicking roadhouse band.

Reflections on the famous revolutionary’s life and death — and, pointedly, on the gringos who watched the war in which he took part from the safe distance of the title — are interspersed with quietly riveting footage of interviews with a Mexican teenager who claims to have heard voices urging him to immerse himself in Villa’s story.

Written and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken, “The Infinite Hotel,” a shotgun marriage of “A Star Is Born” and a ghost story, is an ambitiously busy show that fills the Irondale Center in Brooklyn with cameras and screens. (You may think of Ivo van Hove’s signature style of self-reflexive multimedia explosion.) Some of the audience watches from above, with the sound mix coming through headphones. Some participate as extras — directed in real time — in the filming of the production, which results in a unique feature-length creation from each performance.

Often sounding uncannily like Lady Gaga, Leah Siegel sings with earthy rock authority as a subway singer-songwriter turned arena sensation. But all the technical bells and whistles, while smoothly produced, ultimately feel less like integral elements than a distraction from stock characters and a thin, overlong plot.

“The Infinite Hotel” ends with the mawkish spectacle of a dead father holding his daughter. “4.48 Psychosis” closes with apocalypse — and inevitably, for all of us who see it now, with thoughts of Kane’s actual suicide. “ThisTree” concludes with moving modesty: the simple recognition that this is how things are.

And does Bibi escape at the end of “Prism”? In a culture so single-mindedly focused on personal empowerment and victory over victimization, how could she not? But this rings false. Opera doesn’t need its heroines merely to suffer. But it needs their victories to feel genuine rather than tacked on.



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