San Francisco, CA
December 17, 2016
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano, 2016
These are dark days, and not only because the sun insists on going down ever earlier. We seem to live in a world out of kilter. So a hopeful wishful fantasy was the last thing one expected from one of the most politically engaged performing artists, Keith Hennessy, who created "future friend/ships" in collaboration with the Palestinian/French musician Jassem Hindi. The seventy-five minute work had its share of whimsy and absurdity, pain and despair. One has to admire a theatrical endeavor that takes a broad perspective about the human imagination and our capacity to connect with each other even more. And it does so without overt political rhetoric. Instead it charms even as it wrings the heart.
Jassem HIndi and Keith Hennessey in "future friend/ships". Photo by Anja Beutler
Science fiction permeates "future" like a bubbling undercurrent that gradually emerges. The work also feels like an act of defiance since, as these artists looked around, they couldn't see a future in real life. So in this theatrical endeavor -- which includes childish play and as well as digging deep into hidden truths through history and contemporary life -- they suggested an imaginary future where strangers are welcome and differences treasured. They also introduced the audience to an Arab science-fiction tradition, probably, unknown to many in the audience.
After being welcomed with Middle Eastern sweets, the audience was invited to look at the photographs that covered the floor. "future" is put together as a series of independent scenes, separated by black outs. Though these were abrupt, they were individually well crafted and created a satisfying trajectory
The duo started out playfully, working with a number of small drones. One of them looked like a bug on its back, another wore sunglasses, and a third was a multi-colored jewel. They mostly crashed. Then HIndi turned into a disk jockey with a preference for crashing sounds. But he also played a lyrical melody on a single string stretched diagonally across the space. Next, donning box and bird masks, the two of them broke into an uncouth attempt at dancing, full of awkward runs, drops and hops. The closest thing it resembled was the horsing around of kids on a playground. Exhausted they dropped their masks and tenderly washed each others faces. This shifting of tonal nuances from scene to scene is one of "future's" most appealing accomplishments.
The center section was dedicated to a meta narrative. Pulling a huge colorful curtain, which made me think of small itinerant circuses, the duo appeared with Hindi wearing a neutral head mask; Hennessy had become a jester. Hindi narrated the stories of the photographs which were then passed through the audience. While theatrically speaking, this section was rather static, the stories filled the theater with admiration for these mostly unknown -- in the West -- individuals that are/were able to suggest possibilities beyond the awful reality. The narration also included "future's" manifesto, envisioned as a rebirth of traditional Arab values of hospitality and generosity in which the stranger is welcomed and differences are treasured.
In the last section, in which "futures" became most clearly a parable, light beams barely illuminated the deep darkness. Hennessey, as a mythic bird creature, swooped, turned, ran and swept his cape across the stage. He suggested a supernatural force that brought back a new human being: Hindi crawling, trying out his limbs, pushing against gravity. It was the most sci-fi section of the evening, and maybe that's why Hennessey's singing that Scottish folksong about the bonnie across the ocean was so jarring. Yet it also fit.