Germinal review: Creating the world, in the Under the Radar Festival

Song from COIL
Song from COIL

The first shows of both the Under the Radar and COIL festivals – two of the dozen or so winter festivals that bring experimental theater from around the world to New York in January – began in darkness.

“Sound,” the first show at P.S. 122’s  COIL, more or less remained that way. The piece by Ranters Theater of Australia asked the audience to sit on the floor for an hour looking at a sun changing color, and listening to a sound track of crickets and folk songs.

In the 80 minutes of “Germinal,” the first show of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, four performers created an entire world.

Click on any photograph from Germinal to see it enlarged.

It was slow-going at first, as surely it is whenever a new world begins. The performers didn’t even have language. Their thoughts were projected onto the black backdrop, much to their own bafflement. (When they acquired language, it was French — it’s a French/Belgium production — with English surtitles.) Eventually an pick-axe materialized, and a microphone, a what looked like a computer tablet, and an electric guitar, each one put to use in clever or at least elaborate ways. The performers began classifying things based on whether they made a “pocpoc” sound when hit with a microphone — abstract ideas and feelings were classified as “not pocpoc”

Is it shameful to admit that the theatergoers around me seemed more taken by all this whimsy than I was?

That was true, anyway, until the last ten minutes or so, when the four performers of “Germinal” are sitting in a recessed tub full of packing peanuts and recounting what they, and we, have just experienced through the use of a timeline projected rapidly onto the black backdrop, from “darkness” through “pocpoc” and “not pocpoc” to “end,” with elaborate charts in-between. The scene was not only electrifying; it made the time that preceded it worthwhile.

Germinal,, has only four performances in the festival; the last one today (January 9th) at 3 p.m. But it surely it will return, someday, somewhere.  (Created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoorta, it is a co-production of a long list of companies from a half-dozen different nations, the first two listed being La Biennale de la Danse de Lyon, from France, and Kunstenfestivaldesarts from Brussels, Belgium.)  In the meantime, there are dozens of other offerings at the winter theater festivals.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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