Live Review: Habit is a play that exhausts and seduces
The only thing standing between you and a man fornicating with a pumpkin in David Levine’s Habit is at most a sheer curtain and at least the knowledge that the actor will never acknowledge your presence, even though you are staring at him from only a few feet away. You peer in through the window of a four-walled ranch house, unable to hide your squeamish glee as you watch the actor defile a gourd right before your very eyes.
That kind of unbridled voyeurism is exactly what David Levine was hoping to inspire when he set out to direct a play with no admissions fee, no seats, and no set time. For the last ten days of September, the 90-minute performance put on by PS122 and the French Institute Alliance Française, ran on loop for eight hours a day inside the Essex Street Market in Manhattan so that audiences could come and go as they pleased. Most often, spectators would arrive in the middle of a performance. If they were committed enough to stay through the next rotation of the same dialogue, they got to witness something entirely different. That’s because the only thing that repeats itself in Habit is the script. Everything else -- from cooking to defacating to singing to canoodling -- happens on the actors’ whims.
As a spectator, the experience falls somewhere between watching a film and evesdropping on your parents from behind a doorway. The actors don’t annunciate as much as they might from a traditional stage, so spectators must tiptoe around the house to avoid missing anything. But the dialogue is perhaps the least captivating part of Habit. By design, the script by Jason Grote is standard American realist with all the melodramatic peaks and valleys appropriate to the genre (think: arguments over crack, suicidal strippers and seedy romances). The lack of innovation in the script is intended to make it easy for a viewer to jump in at any moment and follow along. It also allows you to direct your attention to the characters’ actions, which are really just the actors’ actions, as they would perform them in real life, as the characters that they are playing. Confusing, I know.
The lack of a traditional theater setting in Habit is seductive and, just like any blooming infatuation, it’s exhausting. That is, if you stick it out and make the most of it. Physically, you’re standing and, if it is crowded, craning your neck to see and hear. Psychologically, it’s a trip getting used to the intimacy of the design. But once you get past the rush of the actors practically brushing against you as they wander about in their daily lives, you are struck by the uniqueness of what you are witnessing. Each moment is a permutation of a million causal factors, from what a character is cooking for lunch to why someone’s pants are left unzipped.
And no matter how many times Habit is performed, it will always be unique.
|David Levine - Habit Teaser|
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