Dress-up has never seemed more sophisticated than in “Before Your Very Eyes,” the intriguing 70-minute theater piece at the Public Theater by the Gob Squad, the European experimental troupe, which declares at the start that the audience will witness “seven lives lived in fast forward, from age ten to eighty.” We watch seven children, whose actual ages range from nine to 14, as they put on clothing, wigs and makeup in order to pretend to age, on a stage that’s like a playroom, separated by a scrim that’s supposedly a one-way mirror: The audience can look in, but the children can only see their own reflection.
“You do know why you’re here, don’t you?” a pleasant official-sounding female voice says to the children, as her words are posted in supertitles above the stage. “You’re here to live and then die.”
And so they do, with the help of live and recorded video – as teenagers, young adults, people in their 40’s, and then the elderly, who drop dead one by one.
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While offering no especially fresh or profound insights into the aging process or life as it’s lived today, “Before Your Very Eyes” is full of chaotic and kinetic business that occasionally scores as amusing or thought provoking. There’s at least one moment in each Age of Man that feels spot-on.
“So what can you do now that you’re 21,” the voice asks one of the actors, eliciting a long list that includes:
I can legally get drunk
I can join the army
I can waste my money on cheap accessories
I can throw a crazy party where one person ends up in the Emergency room
I can vote
What can you do now you’re 45, the voice asks later.
I can spend too much money joining a gym, to try to lose weight
I can make my kids wear hats because I’m feeling cold
In middle age, they all attend a party in which they act out in pantomime instructions the voice gives them, such as:
Take the plate of homemade sushi you prepared and look at it – embarrassed
Talk about your children, schools and the gentrification of the neighborhood. Talk for too long.
A “middle-aged” Keanu looks stone-faced at a video of a “younger” Keanu full of outlandishly ambitious predictions for his future
At the end, when only Meghan is left alive, the voice then interrogates her, asking nine questions, beginning with
“How does it feel to be left behind?”
“I feel sad sometimes but my friends help me get through.”
and including “Is there anything you would have done differently? “
“I wish I had traveled more, the world’s a big place.”
There are two “teams” of child actors, Team 1 and Team A who alternate performances. (I saw Team 1.) Almost all the cast members have professional acting experience, but the Gob Squad doesn’t seem to want us to be impressed with the children’s transformation into adults. Quite the opposite. The actors always come off as children playing at grownups, as if Gob Squad is saying: But aren’t we all just forever children playing at grownups?