Repetition, mutation, evolution. [THE MACHINE] puts language, delivery and gesture through four human components to create an ever-flowing process that is intricate, abstract and often fascinating.
The four actors slowly boot up once the lights come up, carefully opening their eyes, shifting in their seats, some crossing their legs, getting comfortable and ready. They begin the process slowly. “This. Is the beginning.” Says the first person. “This. Is the beginning.” Repeats the second. It loops, until subtle shifts in inflection or a different letter used alters the pattern, and the phrase changes entirely. They speed up, they slow down, add punctuation, movement, new words, mix up the previously established order of words, reply to each other, almost any imaginable change in delivery is practiced. It is an incredible exercise in group improvisation and collective trust, sometimes thoughtful, often funny, and the performers work very well together for the majority of the show.
Each performer is very different in their delivery and contributions, and this really helps keep the content and delivery interesting for the audience. One is a loud, confident performer who enunciates clearly and often adds gestures but misses changes others add, while another often mumbles and is less expressive physically, but is wonderful at playing with the language. These negative qualities, instead of creating an imbalance only enhance the overall experience, creating anticipation for how each participant may change the flow. The ensemble mostly resists veering to safe improv territory like sex, gobbledegook or shouted delivery, balancing styles well. The process can fall a little flat if it seems like someone is forcing their thought. Occasionally something related to current events is added, or an ambulance siren is commented on and this focuses the audience too much as an audience, in the space, watching these performers. It is much better not knowing where the changes came from and immersing yourself in the process. Similarly, one performer can occasionally get hung up on using one word long after the rest of them have left it out. They eventually link back in with the flow of the piece, but it instantly affects the Machines’ parts relationship to each other, temporarily reducing trust and cohesion. But these moments are bound to happen in an hour long improvised abstract show.
The process and performance is fascinating, but it is a little overlong for what is essentially an entertaining drama exercise. It certainly has conceptual and performative merit, but an hour definitely exhausts what can be done with the method. It often turns up something interesting, but before you can consider meaning or rhythm it’s been replaced with something almost the same, so in the end anything inspiring one could take from it has blended in with everything else. It’s good to have a variety of delivery speeds, but a bit less ponderousness especially at the beginning would have helped initial impressions.
The next performance of [THE MACHINE] will be wildly different, and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s an intriguing experiment that is pleasant to witness, and reveals its performers’ personalities with a pleasant lightness of touch. It is entertaining, and certainly should be tried at home, although it won’t be as effortless, or as enjoyable, as these performers made it seem.