Festivals offer the perfect format to present new voices, examine shared themes and demonstrate the range of an artform. On Day One of ODC Theater’s State of Play Festival 2023, I find myself indebted to festival curators Maurya Kerr and Leyya Mona Tawil. Over three hours they offer us a lyrical work-in-progress showing by Audrey Johnson, an in-your-face take on commercialized American male masculinity by New York duo Baye & Asa, and a haunting piece of interdisciplinary art, Home Waves, by Tableau Stations.
Surjit Nongmeikapam, left, and Marina Fukushima in Home Waves by Tableau Stations. Photo by Robbie Sweeny
It is a persuasive and powerful examination of “precarity and placemaking,” worthy of an extended installation. The set, sound score, and video are masterfully rendered with live performers moving purposely through the crafted landscape.
A performance-length video fills the backwall of the theater, revealing the disused and abandoned edges of our urban landscape: an underpass, a viaduct, a train track, wetlands, and pitted asphalt lots. An old aerial shot of San Francisco, from before the development of Mission Bay, flashes by, reminding one of the vast potentials for affordable housing, now lost to luxury condominiums.
The sound score by Kazuya Matsumoto includes recordings from the video’s local environments, as well as gongs, bells and wind chimes. The noises of water are frequent. Lapping at the shore, dripping, raining, water sustains us but holds the power to chill us and destroy belongings including tenuous temporary housing structures.
The stage is covered in a grey plastic tarp, upon which lie small pieces of driftwood and construction debris. Warm sidelight skims over the wrinkled ground-cloth creating new worlds reminiscent of grade school salt maps or the surface of the moon (Lighting Design: Allen Willner).
Isak Immanuel is credited with Home Waves direction, video, and installation. He also performs in the piece, along with Marina Fukushima and Surjit Nongmeikapam. Working in front of the crisp and clear projected backdrop, they move in separate spheres, neither cooperatively nor simultaneously. Their faces are neutral.
A woman in a black sleeveless dress stands trembling, the blue flag she holds quaking gently. Eventually she shifts to rest or spends time miming household activities, sweeping the floor, or wringing out a rag.
A man moves slowly and methodically through the landscape, carrying additional brightly-colored plastic flags affixed on slender, flexing wires, the type of flag naturalists use to mark where native or non-native species exist in a landscape. He sets a flag in a piece a driftwood, where it stakes its claim for the balance of the 75-minute performance. For me these flags, which continue to accumulate, represent an attempt at ownership, reminiscent of the US flag staked on the moon.
Home Waves by Tableau Stations. Photo by Robbie Sweeny
In the shadows a figure has remained lying in a fetal position, a dark clump on the horizon. Finally, it rises wearing a utilitarian knee-length coat in a drab neutral color. A hood covers the person’s head, while a paper medical mask covers much of their face. Picking up a doorknob attached to a small chunk of door, the figure discovers a matching knob on the other side. Cocking his head, he grasps the new knob, while releasing the first side. This simple transfer, from hand to hand, feels huge, as if a person on the other side is now opening the door.
The largest object onstage is a rocking board, perhaps four-by-foot square. It lies atop a curved object, a half-barrel, or a sphere. The board gains flags along the way, and performers mount it, struggling to find equilibrium with a foot on each side as it tips and rocks precariously. The hooded figure balances for a time, testing the limits of his arm movements while remaining atop the unsteady platform. He crouches and sits for a moment before tumbling backward onto the ground.
The video, which often dwarfs the live performers, provides snippets of narratives. We see the hooded figure sitting at a table on an otherwise empty ferry. He is shuffling through papers; the cover page is titled, ironically, Displaced Tenant Housing Preference form. Out the window we see the San Francisco skyline appear like a castle-filled utopia in the distance. Its iconic bridges and towers sparkle against a sky of shimmering fog.
Occasionally there is interplay between the screen performers and the stage actors. In one shot a new mobile home, split down the center, sits atop wheels, ready for transport. A puddle in the foreground reflects a blue sky, quilted with puffy pink clouds. On the screen, the woman in the sleeveless dress walks barefoot into the puddle, while on stage her doppelganger takes careful matching steps.
On stage the woman arches with her feet planted and her neck bent, she is looking up and almost behind herself, a tree bent in the wind. On screen she stands in the same posture, a mirror image of herself. It is as if the two women can just glimpse each other.
The façade of a new apartment building appears. The filmmakers show us the woman touring an apartment inside it. The existence of shelter marks a change onstage. The cast expands to include two more. Program notes indicate these are “fellow tenants of Mercy Housing Mission Bay.” Silence is used to great effect after housing is found, a great contrast to the constant dripping and lapping of water that accompany the unhoused or precariously-housed portions.
Now five in total, the performers focus on props of daily life. One has a mixing bowl in which she methodically stirs. Another sits with a small pile of laundry, most poignantly an infant sleepy-suit, which she dreamily sets across her shoulder, patting its bottom.
While it seems I have just described the whole show, I merely scratched the surface. This piece is rich in meaning and skillfully layered. Composed with such artistry and collaboration it must have taken years to complete. It deserves a wide viewership and contemplation. If it were at a gallery, I would definitely revisit it and bring friends. There are poems and lyrics I couldn’t absorb at the first showing. The costumes may represent a homemaker, a construction worker and an unhoused person, but a second viewing would be required to test this idea. Home Waves leaves me wanting more, causing me to reflect about it for days afterward. How lucky we are to have these creative social justice communicators in our midst.
Review by Jen Norris, published August 6, 2023.
ODC Theater Presents State of Play August 3-13, 2023
TABLEAU STATIONS / Isak Immanuel, Marina Fukushima, Surjit Nongmeikapam: HOME WAVES
DIRECTION, VIDEO, INSTALLATION Isak Immanuel
PERFORMANCE, COLLABORATION Marina Fukushima, Surjit Nongmeikapam, Isak Immanuel.
Additional appearances by fellow tenants of Mercy Housing in Mission Bay (for camera & stage)
MUSIC Kazuya Matsumoto. Additional sound/ field recording by ensemble
LIGHTING Allen Willner
TEXT (FRAGMENTS IN VIDEO) Sohrab Sepehri (The Traveler), Fumiko Hayashi (A Wanderer’s Notebook), Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Search For Home), Sergio Lopez-Pineiro (A Glossary of Urban Voids), various news articles