Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Schützen (SummerWorks)

Ready, aim…Educate?
Schützen misses the mark
by Gregory Bunker

Schützen, a work making its North American debut from Berlin, is about shooting people. The mercifully charming Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt reports on her research about the aforementioned, with field-recorded effects courtesy of front-row assistant Matthias Meppelink. Fourth wall removed, Ullerup Schmidt tells the audience that no violence would be a part of the show in a backhanded way so-if-you-see-violence-it’s-real kind of way. The reassurance-turned-warning was a promising trick that—considering that the topic is guns—made me both anxious and excited. But the yoga quickly mitigated that and I started to feel like I was quietly rooting for a friend to slam-dunk her high school presentation in a strangely nostalgic, now-let’s-go-out-and-play kind of way. So went the first 30 minutes, and then we actually went out to play.

As it is half of the show, I have reservations about not discussing the final, distinctive part of this work, despite it not receiving attention in currently available descriptions. Because of this I cannot avoid a partial spoiler, so please skip to the final paragraph if you wish to go into this show with only the information generally known about this production.

The hunch that I was in a classroom was confirmed with the final half of Schützen. Unbelievably, the audience (assuming the role of recently released Israeli Defense Force soldiers) was all invited to participate in classes to work through our supposed Palestine-patrolling traumas. After the awkwardness of accepting that the audience was really going to be split up, we settled into rooms for instruction.

Now, after over 30 minutes of a semi-dramatic recital of facts, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce some drama, some fiction, like, say, plant someone in the room to spark dialogue. But it was all very real. And only tangentially related to the first half of the presentation on a barely-there premise. Though it does bring participatory theatre to a whole other level, I’d hardly call it real life theatre. It’s a concept that needed elaboration since there’s nothing else provided to chew on after the show.

Schützen is a tremendously transparent work. If there is another reading of what it is presenting, you must imagine it. Curious and didactic, Schützen doesn’t challenge the audience any more than a typical high school lecture—it’s purely informational, and not especially enlightening at that. The ending is disorienting, disappointing, and too easy to cop out of. Schützen has potential to be an exciting, edgy work, but the final half needs serious attention.

Schützen is at SummerWorks

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