IMPRESSIONS: Dual Rivet's "Subscript" at Arts on Site
Choreography: Chelsea Ainsworth, Jessica Smith with the performers
Performers: Briana Del Mundo, Matt Johnson, Maggie Joy, Isaac Lerner
Creative Collaborators: Quaba Ernest, Jen Payan
Set Design: Chelsea Ainsworth, Jessica Smith
Lighting Design: Beaudau Banks
Sound Design: Marc Cardarelli
Performance Date: April 28, 2023
Dressed in white, loose-fitting clothing, performers Briana Del Mundo, Matt Johnson and Maggie Joy wring their hands and avoid eye contact. Trepidation permeates the group as they sit on chairs, waiting. Nervous gestures — legs crossing and uncrossing, arms reaching, bodies unconventionally sliding and perching — are seen from different viewpoints as the chairs are repeatedly rearranged. This constant shifting of focus introduces ideas that pervade Subscript, Dual Rivet's newest evening length work: reality versus perception and issues of dominance
Performer Isaac Lerner, dressed in a long white coat, appears in the sound booth above the audience shuffling clipboards with a maniacal gaze. He leans out of the glassless window and traces the perimeter with his arms, delineating his terms of confinement. Johnson and Joy distract themselves in a flirtatious duet and Del Mundo safeguards the empty chair next to her as if waiting for someone to return. When Lerner joins them on stage, the tension climaxes. Suddenly this small room feels less like a doctor’s waiting room and more like the testing laboratory in the Netflix Series “Stranger Things.”
As Johnson is led away, in the narrow passage between the door and the stage, an altercation ensues. Simulating the “fight or flight” mechanism in the human brain, Lerner and Johnson’s hypnotizing slow-motion resembles moves in a chess game. Sudden bursts of movement in real-time sweep the audience into their struggle. Lerner tries desperately to keep Johnson out of the booth and away from his charts, to no avail. When Johnson reaches them, his expression tells us all we need to know: this is not a wholesome place.
Subscript’s visceral and cinematic choreography, adapted from Dual Rivet’s 2022 film IN CAPSULE, manipulates perspective in alluring ways. By utilizing parts of the theater not normally reserved for performance, the work feels immersive, directing the viewers focus in much the same way as a camera. Moving set pieces create restrictive environments. First, white walls positioned on stage allow dancers only a small area in which to execute their sweeping movements, inducing anxiety for viewers. When the walls rotate to reveal two monochromatic rooms, that anxiety amplifies. Del Mundo and Joy, dressed in 1950’s style dresses and shoes that match their respective spaces, idly arrange and rearrange items like bored housewives. Outside their rooms, Johnson attempts to get their attention, but cannot break through their haze.
A sinuous and fluid dancer, Johnson’s movements see to come from an outside force rather than from his own will. Sudden twitches possess him like an electric shock and he struggles to regain control. As if in response, Del Mundo notices a white patch of paint behind a picture frame. The yellow color of her room is a façade. She tears the paper off her walls to reveal a sterile prison, the illusion of autonomy shattered.
Ainsworth and Smith’s deft perspective shifts beg the question: who is really in control here? This leads to larger questions: Who is really in control of any of the structures to which we subscribe? Is autonomy and choice merely an illusion? Like a puppet master, Lerner leads his subjects to the floor and rise again. Control appears to be restored. Dancing in unison for the first time, their ebb and flow is pleasantly soothing although short lived. While the characters in this story are defined, more time developing the struggle for dominance between perpetrator and victim would allow for greater character development and accord Subscript’s ending even more power.
With a sudden flick of her wrist, Del Mundo turns the tables. Lerner falls out of rhythm. He lurches and sways like a drunk, desperately attempting to regain power. Gathering strength from Del Mundo’s defiance, Joy and Johnson shift the set one final time. The white walls close in on Lerner and he scrambles on the floor in fear. The final image of his struggle — legs kicking, eyes wide — feels both justified and futile. Power structures may shift, but issues of dominance and submission prevail.