Are you a hi-definition human? Do you seize the day and live every moment? Do you believe in yourself? Are you making enough of your potential? Are you motivated to achieve your destiny? Are you “present”? Are you anti-establishment; do you beat your own path, dress your own way, make your own dreams come true in this roundabout, crazy world? Let me put it as a modern man might: do you do you? Good. That’s just what they want you to think.
Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.
It might be possible to finish this review of Golem, the theater company 1927’s most recent eye-ravishing extravaganza, strictly in language pulled from inspirational posters and advertising slogans. As you leave the theater, it is hard to shake the audial confetti out of your head: you find yourself echoing the catchy ditties and witty sales pitches the production has wormed into your ears. Actually, once you pass by your first brand name store, you begin to realize that leaving the theater doesn’t help.
1927 is a bracingly forward-thinking English company (“Say YES to Progress!”) whose shows are so masterfully designed, costumed, and (literally) animated that it has made them renowned in relatively short order. And Golem doesn’t disappoint. There is no set: the actors work within a fully animated realm that an ultra hi-def projector throws upon the stage. Co-founder and designer/animator Paul Barritt has created a world to get lost in, weirdly different and dirty but totally recognizable, like if Fritz Lang tried to design Venice Beach. A lot of ink has been spilt over the company’s aesthetic and influences — Lang, Kafka, Marcel Marceau — so let’s just keep it brief: this will be the most visually interesting thing you see at Spoleto.
The story of the show follows Robert Robertson, an unambitious little oddball who works at a binary code factory and plays the key-tar in his sister’s punk rock band, which is probably all that needs to be said about the guy. His friend Phil Sylocate has created a wonderful new product, a Golem — an emotionless clay servant that will do whatever you require of it. Soon some real money gets behind Sylocate’s kooky start-up and eventually everybody has one. It’s not long before Robert’s original breaks, and he trades it in for the new model, which can now talk, make suggestions like tell you what to wear, what to buy, who to date — wait, have you heard this story before?
Writer/Director Suzanne Andrade definitely has an agenda, to risk use of a politically charged term. “The things you own end up owning you” is as trite an expression as anything on an inspirational poster, but the theme is deployed in clever and original ways, and Andrade isn’t afraid of a little punky subversion, even when it grates against her own identity as an artist. Andrade and Barritt marshal their company’s entire aesthetic around the idea that modern life is not being lived, it’s being sold. You’re doing you, but everybody else is doing you, too. Golem's imagery is oppressive, but hypnotic. The music and sound design (by Lillian Henley and Laurence Owen, respectively) is by turns goofy, frantic, and even scary. Sylocate’s moneyed backers are really just a stream of atavistic eyes and mouths, with a voice that sounds more like the “BRAMFS” in a summer blockbuster preview. At one point, Robert’s grandmother is — I think I’m getting this right — eaten by a commercial. Golem isn’t Orwellian, it’s Trumpian. This horror movie has been brought to you by Don Draper.
The show hammers its point over and over again, but this could just be a refection of reality. How many times have you seen the same reason-blasting, id-catering commercial? Even if they beat the same dead horse into glue, 1927 has a way of sticking an image in your mind: at one point Robert is alone in a factory, a work supervisor with no workers. But the show is at its cleverest when it points out that we are all culpable. Which, of course, we are. Late in the play, Robert’s sister tries to destroy his Golem and is attacked by the moneyed backers. She gets a peek behind the green curtain. Instead of destroying her, however, the backers tell her to keep going with her cute little anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian punk band.