Brilliant imagery saves a script that falls short in Hot + Wax
There's far more playing area than there is room for the audience: We're seated on a few rows of chairs at each end of the space, while the wide floor between is marked out like a Pacman game. On the opposite wall from where I sit, a screen shows a game of Super Mario Bros. in progress; right above my head — if it fell, it would crack my skull in two — another screen carries a video football game. Other screens, big and little, are scattered around; there's one — with the control works in front of it — that seems to dictate the action. Every now and then it buzzes obnoxiously and a recorded voice suggests, "Please select another level." An audience member gets up to oblige. Below, and to my left, a man sprawls on a rug in what feels like a cozy, messy entertainment nest, applying cream to his hands and face, sometimes looking at the screens near him, sometimes at the action in the playing area. In the far corner, I see a half-built papier-mâché cow, or perhaps a bull. I'm in a froth of irritation and impatience because of the ubiquitous flickering images and the ugly, grating sounds — but this isn't a failure of the LIDA Project's Hot + Wax. I'm meant to feel this way: The company's mission isn't to lull or entertain, but to wake us up.
Hot + Wax is a satire on the business environment, the overweening greed of the corporate elite that sent the world spinning into recession — and out-and-out depression for millions of working people. Lines of soulless men and women in dark suits, carrying briefcases, form and re-form around a ladder; the people sometimes bounce up and down or perform backwards somersaults. The boss is Knossos, aka Minos, the mythic king whose wife fell in love with a beautiful snow-white bull and who had famed inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus design a wooden cow for her to hide inside so that the bull could mount her. The result was a creature called the Minotaur: half man, half bull, and very dangerous. So Minos called on Daedalus again, this time commissioning him to build a labyrinth from which the creature would never be able to escape. Also central to the story are the wings of wax and feathers designed by Daedalus, with which father and son took flight; Icarus soared too close to the sun, the wax melted, and he fell into the sea. The parallel between Icarus's over-reaching and that of the financial industry is at the core of this piece — but that isn't all we get from LIDA. We also get a woman playing a red cello that makes sometimes mournful, sometimes dissonant sounds; a fairy-tale princess (from the Super Mario Brothers game) periodically skimming across the stage and playing with arrows before she finally kills the Minotaur, represented by a guy with silver antennae-like protrusions on his head; people quietly adding strips to the papier-mâché cow in the corner; sudden loud flurries of flying paper; a girl in a red dress, a farmer holding a pitchfork and someone in an Uncle Sam hat; wax-dripping candles; and, of course, the constant pinging and tinging of video games. And as Icarus, illumined by light, ascends the ladder representing his fatal flight, boxy little football players dance on the screen above me. I have to tilt my head back to see them.
The dialogue is often thumpingly obvious, with much repetition of the phrase "too big to fail"; Hot + Wax was created collaboratively and could use a cranky, critical editor. The way the scattershot setting draws the viewer's attention here and there is deliberate and often very effective, but also distracting. Unfortunately, I miss the moment when Knossos draws forth his penis and urinates on the stage, something I've never seen in years of theater-going. Perhaps I'm too busy gazing at the Mario Bros. screen, wondering if the game is about to start again; or distracted by the buzz from the nearest television; or just checking out the face-cream guy. Even if the script falls short here and there, the images are often brilliant, the staging daring and disciplined, and the entire phenomenon well worth attention.
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