How do we respond to the loss of a loved one? Through skit, monologue, music and dance – at least if you’re creator Sim Yan Ying “YY”, who explores many of the ways we deal with death in her collage-theater piece Where Are You? (New York).
The cast of seven first appear motionless, flat on their backs. When these “corpses” begin moving, stiffly and in unison, it’s to playact the steps outlined in a clinical description of what happens to a human body in the hours and days after its heart stops beating.
Suddenly a wild and wound-up dance ensues, revealing the show’s own (vividly beating) heart, and we’re off.
What follows is a sequence of family scenes, humorous skits, short narratives, fantasies, dance, music and video. While the scenes can sometimes carry a whiff of the drama-class exercise, the smooth, energized staging and flow and the focused performances ensured that my attention almost never wavered.
The many faces of death
The program explains that the piece, created and directed by Sim Yan Ying “YY”, was also “devised” by the cast. Collaborative efforts inspired by real-life human stories have resulted in wonderful shows before. Think A Chorus Line. It’s a risky technique but it works in Where Are You? thanks to a unified conception and an excellent, multitalented cast.
An adolescent whose mother has died rebels against his family’s mourning process – until he encounters a doobie-smoking deity. A propulsive video vision (kudos to multimedia designer Cinthia Chen) shows the bewildering, emotionally oppressive social-media reaction to a death. A Taiwanese immigrant plaintively recounts (with English supertitles) what it’s like to lose a parent who’s on the other side of the world.
Glum faces and robotic body language contrast humorously with lighthearted, old-timey dance moves. A hopeful young woman relays her flight number to her dead grandfather. A clueless friend ignites a violent fantasy. A nightclub scene spins off its axis.
The message seems to be: Look at all the life that clamors around us when we encounter death, or even contemplate it.
They’re inextricably linked, after all. Sure, we don’t need theater to remind us of that. But theater at its best brings the many and varied aspects of life – including death – alive for us in a way nothing else can.