Those who left “The Woman in White” unconvinced that video projections can make effective set designs should head to BAM for “Super Vision,” a multimedia warning about identity theft that puts technology to stunningly visceral use. Created by performance group the Builders Assn., in conjunction with design studio Dbox, this show hypnotizes by creating gorgeous images, only to undercut them with actors who are writhing with dread.
“Dread,” we learn from suburban housewife Carol (Kyle DeCamp), is also the name for an eerie silence among a flock of birds just before they erupt into flight. That ironically natural image anchors “Super Vision,” which weaves three stories of people who seem incapable of stillness.
Carol, for example, tries to pretend everything is fine with her husband, John Sr. (David Pence), and their son, John Jr. (Owen Philip), but she’s increasingly aware that daddy’s up to something. Namely, he’s stealing his son’s identity and using it to run up credit card debt. The couple distract themselves from the truth by mouthing happy statistics — they’re one of the 2.8% of the nation who own more than an acre, for instance — which makes a sly comment on how we think we’ve got our information under control.
But modern identity is woefully unstable. That point gets indelibly made by child actor Philip, who never appears onstage. His entire perf is projected, either on the massive scrim comprising the back wall or on one of the translucent screens that slide across the front of the stage. And this phantom child is the only one who can touch his house, since most of the domestic idyll is on video, too.
Director Marianne Weems perfectly calibrates the interaction between humans and images to make the scenes seem almost natural. The liveliness of the video boy and the clarity of his pixel home are terrifically creepy.
Even better, Pence and DeCamp give intentionally awkward perfs, their coldness enhancing the liveliness of the design. Dbox, along with video designer Peter Flaherty, has created images that respond to human mood, so that Carol’s house, for example, grows to enormous size as she learns about her husband’s secret.
In “Super Vision’s” other segments, the visuals evoke almost as much emotion as the actors. Take the Traveller (Rizwan Mirza), an African citizen of Indian descent who keeps entering the U.S. on business. In each of his scenes, he’s met by a suspicious border agent (all played by Joseph Silovsky), who needs only a keystroke to get intimate information about this “potentially suspect” visitor.
During these scenes, the actors play it cool, barely rising above conversational tones no matter how ominous the agent’s questions become. But the danger is obvious as we see a swirling list of everything the Traveller has ever bought. Like Dan Dobson’s soothing ambient music — which beeps and whooshes under the entire show — the pace of this onscreen information is always steady. Private details scroll lazily by, emphasizing that there’s no escape from the computer’s constant watch.
By maintaining this easy pace, Weems thwarts the common practice of presenting techno-menace as an endless array of jump cuts and jarring sounds (think of “The Matrix”). Her control of environment and volume gives us time to consider the characters’ inexorable loss of self.
Crucially, though, it’s not just computers that warp identities. The third story features a grandmother (a charming Moe Angelos) chatting via Webcam with her granddaughter (Tanya Selvaratnam). As she grows more senile, the grandmother’s face — made enormous on one of the screens — starts to break apart. It’s a distorted image that the granddaughter can’t see, and it reminds us that the difficulty of holding on to our human connections and ourselves isn’t always the fault of the machines.