THE NEW YORK TIMES
May 6, 2005
'Man, the Flower of All Flesh'
558 St. Johns Place, Crown Heights
Through May 14
Hanne Tierney, the creator of "Man, the Flower of All Flesh," calls it "a theater-without-actors performance work." I would also call it sculpture, installation art, sound art, dance and an act of magic.
About an hour long, the piece is based on a 1909 E. M. Forster story about a woman named Vashti, who lives with her son in a shadowy, subterranean world ruled by a force called the Machine, a kind of infernal life-support system. Despite their entrapment, the inhabitants spend their days dreading the possibility of a mechanical failure. But when one finally occurs, they discover that not only do they not need the Machine, but also that life without it is Eden.
Actors are present only as voices; Ms. Tierney herself speaks the role of Vashti. The real performers are various sculpture-like forms made from job-lot materials and attached by ropes to the back wall of the gallery. By pulling the ropes Ms. Tierney and Shawn Lane move the sculptures, puppet-style, in a narrative ballet mecanique to music composed and performed by Jane Wang.
The effects are remarkable. Plumbing pipes dance and copulate. Tentacle-like surveillance devices made of industrial tubing scan the gallery. A glowing blue orb expands and contracts in midair. Vashti appears as a floating column of dark cloth, and an embodiment of grace and exhaustion.
The work is clearly collaborative. It draws much of its power from Trevor Brown's subtle lighting, Phil Soltonoff's sound design, and a charming prologue written and performed by Matt Freedman, a Brooklyn-based artist. But the lion's share of praise must go to Ms. Tierney. Founder of Five Myles, one of the city's few unimpeachably utopian art spaces, she is an extraordinary artist and performer, and has produced a work with the clarity of a children's story and the weight of a morality play.
Remaining performances are tonight and tomorrow night, and May 12 through 14, all at 7 p.m. Admisson is $20 for adults; $10 for students and those 65 and over. Seating is limited; reservations: (718) 783-4438.