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Carmen García Durazo: Posthuman at Last: Chaos and Cunning in Jay Scheib’s World of Wires

January 12, 2012

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Are you living in a computer simulation? Jay Scheib’s recent work, World of Wires, may have the answer.

World-of-Wires.jpgPhotograph by Paula Court.

Jay Scheib’s World of Wires is meant to disorient. It is a carefully executed, masterfully acted exercise in discord. However, despite the repeated gunshots, cruel splashes of cool water, and nauseating, unrelenting multimedia onslaught, Scheib’s work comes through with one clear message: although your life outside the cramped theatre may seem slightly less cacophonous, it, too, may be even more complicated than it seems.

Wires is a re-visioning of Welt am Draht, filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 science-fiction television series. The quixotic, plot-ridden maze follows protagonist Fred Stiller as he makes his way though the uncannily unraveling universe of personality simulation. His life as head of a prestigious experiment in reality simulation quickly unravels, as—in the manner of The Matrix, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg treatise, and the landmark N. Katherine Hayles study of the Posthuman—he begins to doubt the appearance of “reality” as defined by his physical environment and interpersonal relationships. Gradually, as hilarity and hysteria ensue, Stiller begins to suspect the reality experiments are growing to be beyond his control, and may be beginning to control him. Shots are fired, clothing abandoned, a Biblical and Dante-esque visioning of Paradise and Hell mastered (complete with throbbing walls, crisp white interiors, ripened fruit, and the obligatory wailing and gnashing of teeth).

Scheib develops his work along this carefully plotted agenda of creative destruction without allowing the chaos to overwhelm his viewers. Voices overlap, props topple, and costumes flit from body to body, yet no matter how disorienting and frenetic the stage becomes, Wires’ audience seems able to maintain a highly engaged sense of safety, as if in the eye of the storm. This sense of omniscient distance is crucial to Scheib’s piece.

In a work that is so dutifully befuddling and purposefully discomforting, it is often helpful to the viewer (or reader) to have one character, motif, or location of certitude. The consistent repetition of at least one, omni-textual trope reassures and centers the reader in the wake of thematic and aesthetic chaos (or, at times, improvisation). In The Matrix, to which Wires is often compared in recent reviews, that was the ringing pay telephone; in Don Quixote, it was trusty squire Sancho Panza; in Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, the plodding, almost maternal bass line. In his work, Scheib effectively employs his wayfaring video camera, recording his actors and capturing their brilliant exertions at angles impossible to experience through a standard offstage-onstage blocking.

But even further, the effect of the camera supersedes a merely theatrical purpose. In addition to being a symbol of the director’s power, as well as a useful prop which adds to the dynamism of the multimedia extravaganza, the live-feed video camera poised in front of the sweaty thespian kerfuffle serves as a comforting reminder to the audience: don’t worry. These people are the ones “acting.” You, the viewer, are real, and you’re going to be just fine.

Although the Baudrillard-inspired premise of a post-human, man-machine battle royale is by no means new, Scheib’s work places it (Disneyland reference intact) —at the very least—in a profoundly relatable context.

In Wires, after all, the characters are at last queasily accepting of their perpetually scrambled personality crossfire. In the span of ninety minutes, they experience (and seem to learn from) love, death, searing anger, and crushing joy. Even when in their digitally fabricated forms, Scheib’s characters—much like the Second Life or, say, Facebook personalities of his audience members—express, emote, and pine. Most importantly, it seems that despite their staccato-like appearances onstage, behind mirrors, blazoned on a video screen, or projected ten feet high, they, like you, hope that they going to be just fine.

Jay Scheib’s World of Wires, starring Sarita Choudhury, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Rosalie Lowe, Jon Morris, Ayesha Ngaujah, Laine Rettmer, and Tanya Selvaratnam, is performed at The Kitchen through January 21, 2012. For ticket information, please visit here.

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Carmen García Durazo lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.

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