This 15 minutes of Virtual Reality offering the sensation of looking at, walking on and flying over the moon — created by performance artist Laurie Anderson and new media artist Hsin-Chien Huang — is more of a playful hallucinogenic experience than a linear lunar journey; more Timothy Leary than Neil Armstrong.
Yes, the big VR headset that you don gives you some realistic-looking images of the surface of the moon, and of the star-dotted blackness of space. The vastness, backed by Anderson’s quiet compositions in the background, may remind you at times of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” There is even space debris – pieces of which apparently crash into what I guess is the shield of my helmet, because they leave it with a couple of cracks. But there are moments closer to “Fantasia” — cartoon images of dinosaurs and soaring birds made out of what look like delicate snowflakes, or maybe they’re supposed to be composed of cartoon DNA, because on closer inspection they are embedded with tiny letters of the alphabet.
And there is no real plot in “To The Moon,” not even one as simple as a trip to the moon, and then around it. You first see the moon, but then it simply falls away and you have the sensation of being in space.
At one point, you can see your tiny shadow on the textured lunar surface; at another, you’re riding on a donkey as it makes its way slowly past small meteors that explode around us, leaving shiny black crystals, and occasionally a flag – first an American flag, then a Soviet, then one I didn’t recognize but made me think of Sweden.
There are up to five people sitting in the room at the Public Theater, each in their own virtual world. The attendants hand us two hand controllers, and we’re given instructions on screen on how to control in what direction we go, and how fast and how slow, to help with the sensation of walking and flying over the surface of the moon. But, as one of the attendants admitted to me, the controllers only really kick in for a few moments. “To The Moon” is largely a passive experience, although one filled with awe. Since it’s being presented at a theater festival, let me observe that It feels less a work of theater than a suggestion of what may some day soon be incorporated into works of theater.