An improvisational theater company founded in the Netherlands in 1975, Dogtroep has performed in or on such unusual venues as airline terminals, barges , beaches and viaducts. The Intl. Theater Festival of Chicago invited the company to create an original theater piece in the newly opened Skyline Stage on Navy Pier, which juts out into Lake Michigan. The pier is in the throes of massive redevelopment, and the well-designed Skyline Stage is the first element completed.
The underwhelming result of Dogtroep’s month of development work at Skyline Stage is “Camel Gossip III.” The free-form piece begins uneventfully, with a woman removing clothes from clotheslines and stacking them on top of a human “laundry basket” for nearly 10 interminable minutes.
Dogtroep apparently fancies itself a company devoted to the theater of human ritual in its many guises. But the ritual of taking in the laundry simply isn’t great theater, at least as envisioned by Dogtroep. And certainly not a great way to kick off a production.
The rest of “Camel Gossip III” isn’t much more gripping, though the images that Dogtroep sometimes comes up with in this unplotted, primarily visual theatrical fantasy do transcend the agonizingly mundane opening sequence.
The most fascinating segment comes early on, when large boxes are lowered into view from the fly space. The boxes open up to reveal bizarrely clad women who conclude a carefully choreographed interlude by turning their backs to the audience and mimicking urination. That action unleashes a torrent of water that continues to deluge the stage for most of the evening.
“Camel Gossip III” hits another high point when members of the improvisational troupe pass through the audience with long, menacing-looking poles attached to their heads. At the end of each pole is a loudspeaker that eerily amplifies the sound of each person’s breathing.
Throughout the evening, roaming musicians provide pleasing musical underscoring, a welcome addition to Dogtroep’s increasingly disjointed stage imagery. “Camel Gossip III” has a touch of Cirque de Soleil’s playfulness, as well as its air of mystery. Special effects, such as the non-stop waterfall, play a key role in this production. Saskia de Zee’s costumes emphasize bulbous skirts for the women, and generally weird clothing for everyone else. Marco Biagioni’s lighting makes little or no impression most of the time.
But the lack of any apparent unifying vision or message to bind together “Camel Gossip III’s” random imagery is the evening’s biggest problem. That makes it exceedingly hard to warm up to this show.