Theater: It’s a strange, strange world

By Diane Baker  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 - Page 14

The surreal, sometimes disturbing world of Riverbed Theatre (河床劇團) returned to Taipei this week with Rice Dreams (夢遊), which opened on Wednesday at the Arki Galeria and runs through tomorrow afternoon.

Rice Dreams is a remix — to borrow a term from the music world — of several of the company’s previous works, including its three “rice productions” — Riz au Lait, Riz Flambe and Riz Souffle — as well as The Man Who Became a Cloud, The Life and Times of Robert Wilson, Electric X and others.

“It is a ‘re-collaging’ of productions, a mash-up: Lady Gaga up against Marilyn Manson, Kenny Rodgers against The Prodigy,” director and company cofounder Craig Quintero said after a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s a retrospective in a way, taking characters and images from different plays and putting them together, taking moments from each work.”

“We have been marinating them for five or six years,” he said, meaning that he’d been reflecting on the older shows and their characters and scenes. “Some are less successful, but as a director, this is interesting.”

A collage was also a good way to mark the start of the company’s 13th year, he said.

Longtime fans of the troupe’s work will recognize several of the puppets — such as the wonderful figure that represented Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte in 2006’s The Man Who Became a Cloud — and masks like the ones from 2004’s Robert Wilson, even if they don’t remember the scenes in which they appeared.

One reason the hour-long show is so puppet heavy is that it is heading to Stuttgart and Mannheim, Germany, in March to be part of the International Puppet Theater Festival.

Riverbed’s productions are visually based and rarely have a narrative thread, allowing each viewer to interpret for his or herself what they are seeing, while eliminating what is crucial to most other plays — scripted dialogue.

“Removing the script allows for a more honest process,” Quintero said, sounding like the theater professor he is. “This type of work is more realistic than a realistic play or TV show; that’s fake, characters that have their stories resolved in an hour or two.”

“A story line that has one resolution, that’s not the way we live our lives. Things happen,” he said, adding: “A series of events of instances of happenings — that is more real. In our life there is no master narrative.”

Of course, reality is rarely a production value with Riverbed shows.

Two signs from The Man Who Became a Cloud reading “Believe everything you see” and “This is not a performance,” make a reappearance in this show. Those maxims, however, are more than just words on boards — they epitomize Riverbed’s mission.

There will also be several familiar faces or names among the production’s seven actors, such as Felicia Huang (黃婕菲), while Quintero’s frequent music collaborator, his mom Cheryl, contributed the music for the program.