'L'effet de Serge' misses far more than it hits

In the performance notes for L'effet de Serge, the finale of the Walker Art Center's Out There 2011, the production by Vivarium Studio is described as turning "theatrical conventions upside down as it blends reality and artifice, superimposing varying levels of presence and questioning the nature of representation while taking a dispassionate look at human beings, their needs for each other and their reliance on a poetic spirit to transcend mundane lives of sometimes stupefying insignificance."

That, my friends, is a Level Five Pretentious Alert. And the klaxons and aurooga horns playing in my head as the lights went down last night truly were a warning. L'effet de Serge is a Jekyll and Hyde proposition: Parts of it (maybe 15 minutes) are innovative, thrilling, and funny; the rest of it (about an hour) is mind-numbing tedium.


First, to the good side. In Philippe Quesne's creation, Serge is a single man who interrupts his everyday tedium by presenting short (1 to 3 minute) performances on Sundays for one, two, or more friends. These low-key happenings may entail setting off small flashpots during a slow-moving dance or synchronizing a simple laser show to the music of John Cage. These moments are truly entertaining and funny. It's pretty clear that they are the highlight of Serge's week, even if his own personality won't allow him to reach out to his friends for more than a few minutes at a time.

The time between the performances--or even little onstage jokes--stretches on to what seems infinite. It doesn't help that the dialogue goes beyond naturalist to simply being inaudible to the audience, which makes it seem like the performers are having a private moment onstage. Does this mean I can do the same? Answer my emails? Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me about pretentious French art?

This is probably all about the emotional disconnection of modern life and the artifice of performing onstage. There's nothing at all wrong with exploring those subjects, but it seems pretty cynical to pad out your show with 10 minutes of people sharing small talk and eating Pizza Luce.

L'effet de Serge runs through Saturday.