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Who Do You Think You Are (review)

From: Theatre Journal
Volume 60, Number 4, December 2008
pp. 672-674 | 10.1353/tj.0.0116

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The mission of the SITI Company, founded by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki in 1992, is to produce innovative new work, train new artists, and encourage international collaborations. Combining rigorous Suzuki technique with the more fluid and ensemble-building Viewpoints training, the company creates thought-provoking and visually compelling work despite the challenges SITI faces in its search for a permanent home that would allow company members to work together year-round. The world premiere of Who Do You Think You Are, although early in its development, once again highlights the rigorous training and ensemble work of this remarkable company. Commissioned by ASU Gammage, Who Do You Think You Are was created as part of a three-year residency between Arizona State University (ASU) and the SITI Company. In the performance, Bogart and her company scrambled time and space to explore the fundamental relationship between mind and body, and the piece is indicative of the company’s unique process of creating company-devised, performative “theatre essays.” Clearly, SITI deserves opportunities to expand on this process.

The SITI website states that like other devised work by SITI, such as Culture of Desire, The Medium, Going Going Gone, and Cabin Pressure, Who Do You Think You Are is a theatre “essay”—a theatrical form that explores a specific theme using a formula consisting of a question, an anchor, and a structure. In Cabin Pressure, for example, the question was about the relationship between actors and audience, the anchor was a group of nontheatre people asked about their specific experiences in the theatre, and the structure was an awkward audience talkback. In Who Do You Think You Are, Bogart and company turned their attention to the field of neurology and brain science. The question proposed by Bogart was how the human experience and human biology influence each other. They selected as their structure Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s early play Katzelmacher (and the 1969 film of the same name), featuring a dysfunctional community of people who provide the anchor for the piece.


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Ellen Lauren (Marie) and Barney O’Hanlon (Eric) in Who Do You Think You Are. Photo: Michael Brosilow.

As part of their process, company members engaged in extensive research in contemporary scientific understandings of the workings of the brain. During their residency in April 2007, Bogart and the company met with a group of ASU faculty specializing in specific aspects of neuroscience, such as the functions of mirror neurons and the mechanics of memory. Following this work, the company continued to develop the piece at SITI’s summer institute in Saratoga Springs, and for several weeks in December 2007 and January 2008 in their studio in New York City. By this time, Bogart had combined scenes and characters from Katzelmacher into a rough draft. Bogart’s adaptation of Fassbinder’s text provides a lens through which to explore potent psychological issues, including difficulties with human connectedness, origins of physical and psychological aggression, the complexity of memory, intricacies of addiction (both emotional and substance), and the possibility of intentional change. The characters function in an atmosphere of impending violence. Eric (Barney O’Hanlon), for example, is constantly on the verge of lashing out violently against Marie (Ellen Lauren) as he struggles with his narcotics dependency and plots a criminal heist. Marie cruelly criticizes Bruno, her emasculated partner played by Will Bond, whose feelings of inferiority feed his aggression. Leon Ingulsrud played Paul, a greedy bully who will take advantage of anyone to gain money or status. Gunda, played by Akiko Aizawa, falsely accuses the foreigner (J. Ed Araiza) of rape, which leads to a violent community attack on him.

The design team participated actively throughout the rehearsal process, ensuring that the visual elements and soundscape were as integral to the production as the actors or the text. The actors portrayed the monotonous lives of the characters, for example, within a boldly theatrical setting consisting of a huge white target painted on the floor and a sculpture of flashing florescent lights clustered like brain neurons suspended above. The target later became topography for the company as they circled the target or found themselves at its center. Early in the performance...



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