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Metro: In the State of Mind The Baldacchino

Remaining Performances: July 11 @ 9:30 PM July 12 @ 3:00 PM July 13 @ 2:00 PM July 18 @ 7:00 PM July 19 @ 7:30 PM July 20 @ 1:00 PM

They say: “poetic non sequiturs …. punctuate illusive conformity …. minimalist … sounds effect … existential expression … on the platform into tangents. Through Dance With Improv Over Music From Concrete To State Of Mind. PERCEPTION WILL TRANSPORT YOU IN YOUR OWN REALITY.”

Chris’s take: In Zurich in 1917, a now-famous ensemble of Dadaists, among them Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara gave a performance in which everything went wrong. The lightening and thunder happened at the wrong times, the backdrops were mixed up, and so forth. Nevertheless the performers “gave the absolute impression that this was a special effect of the production,” and Tzara later wrote that the performance determined the entire direction of the Dada theater. Not bad for a train wreck.

And then there’s METRO: In the State of Mind, playing at the Baldacchino at Fort Fringe through July 20.

Neither a play nor a dance, the performance is an attempt to evoke the DC Metro. As the event begins, performers wind their way into the space: first, a pair of teenaged girls in school uniforms; then a sweating Marine repeating “I see the enemy everywhere” over and over; then a long-haired rock dude, sort of a live-action version of Otto from The Simpsons. The stage gradually accumulates still more characters, including a couple one might at first take for Fringe latecomers awkwardly taking their seats, but who turn out to be part of the show.

To say the performance has a plot would be to overstate the facts, but what is discernable is that everyone talks on their cell phones (they must all have Verizon!), there is a long train delay, leaving the passengers restless, and a father boards the train with his twelve-year-old daughter, who seemingly gets off the train when she’s not supposed to. As the piece progresses, the atmosphere grows more nightmarish, as a man wearing orange tape dispensers around his waist belts out “Happy Days are Here Again” with a booming operatic voice.

But I am giving this piece too much credit. It’s not at all clear that much of anything came off as was intended. Toward the end, a character best interpreted as the train conductor moved into the audience to talk to the stage manager, and I overheard them talking about sound tech problems. Is this part of the show, like the late-arriving couple? Soon the performance ended without the slightest inkling of resolution. We in the audience sat awkwardly, wondering if something else was going to happen–that couple was sitting house left, as if waiting for the other performers to return to the stage. Finally, someone was brave enough to clap. We applauded. The train conductor came out to explain apologetically that the director had been in the hospital, and they’d burned a new CD today but it hadn’t worked. Things had gone wrong. The other performers, presumably mortified by the collapse, never retook the stage to make a curtain call.

We the audience filtered out, and behind me I heard someone draw out the word “terr-i-ble.” The stated runtime is 50 minutes, whereas this performance clocked in at just 35. Whether the 50-minute version is worth the watch, I cannot say, but the 35-minute version was a mess in more ways that I can describe.

See it if: You’re one of those people for whom hope springs eternal.

Skip it if: You have a low threshold for production screw-ups.