LEO, a one-man physical theater hearkening from Berlin, literally tipped the stage of the Irvine Barclay Theatre on its side on Saturday, October 5th.
A set by Flavia Hevin consisted of three walls and a floor and occupied center stage. Meanwhile, a camera craned down from the house rafters, capturing performer William Bonnet at a right angle. His image, rotated 90 degrees to the right, was projected onto a screen next to Hevin’s set. So as Bonnet lay supine on his back, his duplicate appeared to be sitting upright.
But LEO went beyond cold conceptual techniques and into the more heartwarming land of narrative. With the sound of a clock ticking, Bonnet and his suitcase appeared in a dimly lit, Kafkaesque waiting room. Was it a train station? The place was deserted, and something unusual was up…or down…or sideways. Bonnet slowly became aware of the gravitational pull of the “wall” beside him, attracted to the impressive feats it afforded him. His suitcase was was similarly magical; playing music and pulsing with light, it introduced a variety of dance sequences that matched the changing strains of African drums, hip-hop, classical piano, and gooey Sinatra. The suitcase also produced a piece of chalk, which Bonnet used to draw onto one of his walls; a scene complete with a chair and a table, a cat to keep him company, a bottle of wine, a fishbowl, a bird at an open window. Things got weirder still when animation, designed by Ingo Panke, layered on over the top of the drawing, gave life to the cat, the fish, and the bird. An accident with the fishbowl caused the departure of the cat and the bird, filling the room with animated water. Bonnet desperately strove to stay afloat. A whale approached with a deep moo. Bonnet was submerged. Sea monsters arose from the deep and battled. Yes, this really happened.
Throughout the show, Bonnet was like Oz and, next to him, the man behind the curtain–sans curtain. There was no hierarchy between illusion and origin; at times, the former was more captivating to watch, at others, the latter. A single-armed sideways plank with feet planted a few feet up the wall was simultaneously a nonchalant arm-against-the-wall stance. Simply lying supine in the middle of the floor, at right, achieved the effect of levitating against a wall at left. Watching this interplay between cause and effect like some kind of tennis match made me look at gravity in a new, culpable, light and wonder at the difficulty of these poses. The work had a very performative quality, despite our performer’s apparent solitude within his world onstage. I found myself entering a fantastic, absurd world that can only be accessed by those who are utterly alone, and where it is possible to be totally candid–certainly, unafraid to dance.
The evening unraveled like a strange dream, or a children’s story: Harold and the Purple Crayon comes to mind, or Puff the Magic Dragon. Plenty of children filled the audience, but the work appealed to viewers of all ages. As nonsensical as it was in its narrative, it was also highly scientific in its manipulation of gravity. The story ended with an athletic sequence in which Bonnet attempted in several ways to escape his sideways captivity. Video of his performance on delay was overlaid, achieving the effect of a visual echo. Finally, Bonnet reopened his suitcase, which had been resting against a wall. This time, it revealed a tunnel leading out of the room, leaving the audience to question what new world this character could possibly enter next.