Keep Your Electric Eye On Me

by Cheryl King · May 2, 2014

Playwrights on New Plays #69Cheryl King comments on Keep Your Electric Eye On Me at HERE Arts Center

When I committed to see and comment on Keep Your Electric Eye on Me, at HERE, it was because of my memories of David Bowie from the 70’s.  There was the album Ziggy Stardust, with the song "Moon Age Daydream", which contains this lyric:

“Keep your electric eye on me, babe Put your ray-gun to my head Press your space face close to mine, love Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh, yeah, yeah”

Then there was the amazing film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, an exploration of science fiction as an art form. Wikipedia offers this in its description, “The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life.”

It’s an imposing set that first greets you when you enter HERE’s marvelously large and airy space. Brad Kisicki offers a weirdly domestic scene – a dressing table covered in test tubes, rotating turntable, make-up, colored liquids, a microphone on a gooseneck and a camera (the electric eye) keeping track of it all. Three monitors are at the foot of the table, and one offers the image from a camera focused on the chair in front of the table.

Across the stage, past three cameras set on tripods, past the three huge screens on the upstage wall, all filled with sparkling images, is what might be called the man cave – where a chair sits next to a table, another camera watching, another microphone on a gooseneck, another monitor on the floor, and nuts and a beer wait for the master of the house.

The sonic values and video images establish themselves for quite a long time. Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty have done a brilliant job here. It reminds me of art installations I have seen in LA at the Getty. Tinkling music with deep bass rumble in the background fills the space. Finally, things start to shift in this strange landscape, blips appear on the screen, the sound shifts and there is movement beyond the little turntable on the dressing table.

Finally… the entrance of the performers. Madeline Best, with languid walk and immobile face, sucks on a green candy and surrenders it to the hand of her partner, Carlton Ward. He wipes her face in a strange solicitous gesture, and their weird pas de deux begins. Is he her master or her partner? Is she a living doll or a person? It’s impossible to tell. They alternate between utterly inscrutable behaviors and strange and disconcertingly erotic dance movements. He slides across the floor, she drips colored liquids into beakers and drinks them, they do an odd dance where her limp arm keeps sliding off his head, and he keeps replacing it. It’s the only even slightly humorous moment in the entire piece, and no one in the audience was willing to break the spell by laughing. Choreographer Tara O’Con is inventive, though I never figured out what the purpose of her invention was.

And all the while, the electric eyes are on them--from multiple angles. He watches himself check out a number of spoons, she sits and stares across the stage in rose-colored glasses, he puffs on a vape, and watches her. At one point each of them whispers into their mics, “I think I am very happy.” It’s impossible to tell from their faces. Was the idea to explore Nicolas Roeg’s idea - a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life? I saw no real connection between the two of them, even when they were in contact.

They offer recipes for tuna melt into their microphones, one at a time. They do strange things, one after another, and meanwhile the images in the background grow loud and hysterical, grow soft and beautiful, the soundscape multiplies and dwindles. It’s a new age daydream of some kind, that’s for sure. I longed for a climax of some kind. Near the end she disappears, and an offstage camera picks her up, posing in a shiny dress. He goes to her and, in the only moment that truly touched me on an emotional level, we see the two of them offstage, him reaching up to her, her looking down to him, their space-faces huge on the three back screens, and sparkles overlying the whole. The final remark he makes echoes in my head, “Why, why, always?”





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