Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Third Rail Projects' The Grand Paradise by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Third Rail Projects' The Grand Paradise was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Grand Paradise
Directed, Designed, Written & Choreographed
by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson & Jennine Willett
Original Music & Sound Design by Sean Hagerty
Costume Design by Karen Young
Scenic Design by Elisabeth Svenningsen
383 Troutman Street
Brooklyn, New York 11237
Reviewed 2/23/16  

You arrive in Bushwick, Brooklyn looking for 383 Troutman Street. You will not find it. All you will see are metal doors and buildings with graffiti written on the outside. No lights. No marque. No outside greeter. Eventually, you will figure out which door to open since it has a small piece of paper glued to the outside telling you where you need to be. When entering, you will show your identification, check your coat if you want to, use the unisex bathroom, and purchase tokens for drinks you can redeem in the boarding area or at the Shipwreck Lounge later in the evening. For $150.00 a ticket paid by 60 guests (as opposed to 15 a showing at Third Rail Projects' Then She Fell), I would think The Grand Paradise experience should be able to offer guests two free drink tickets at the minimum. It doesn't. In groups, you are led down a hallway where you watch a short Finis Air flight safety announcement video where you are told to treat all performers with respect, to not open any closed doors, and to put away any video or recording devices. 

An airline hostess takes your boarding pass, and presto, you have arrived at The Grand Paradise, a late 1970s-style tropical resort. You are greeted with a lei and left to wander around the main room filled with fake flowers and rock formations, cabanas, and dancers appearing up above and under water while the remainder of the 60 attendees get processed. I arrived in the main waiting area at 6:50 p.m. and basically stood around for nearly a half hour. Guests did not talk to one another, some explored rooms with open doors, others viewed the dancing, but very little else happened. I was eventually asked by a company member if I was having a good time and quickly responded no. If  the entire company was used as a greeting staff, handing out free mini-drinks (perhaps non-alcoholic pina colada) and engaging guests in conversation, shoulder massages, and facilitating introductions with other guests, then this early meet and greet might have meant something. Instead, attendees basically stood around like dummies waiting for something to happen.

The story told is that The Grand Paradise is built on a "Fountain of Youth" where your desire to stay young is granted as long as you drink the water. There is a lot of ceremonial water drinking (but no water for the guests) and company members may engage you in pseudoscience and superstitious talk asking for your astrological sign, reading your palms, and encouraging you to make a wish after throwing a penny into a wishing well. This is a place where all your desires are supposed to be quenched. The resort consists of a beach with a lifeguard station (but no water), a disco dance floor, a grotto with statuary, cabanas, one-person beach-side changing rooms, small bedrooms for late-night encounters, and a maritime-themed bar named "Shipwrecked" (complete with a Space Mission pinball machine). Above the bar hangs a boat with a hole in it named the "Elisabeth." I wonder whether it is a coincidence that the person responsible for the scenic design of this production is named "Elisabeth" Svenningsen. If you are stuck in a dark closet or a cabana, use the flashlight and open the cabinet doors. Hidden secrets may be revealed. 

As the show begins, a family of four (what appeared to me to be a mother, father and two children, a boy and a girl, of barely legal age) arrives with a trolley full of vintage baggage. What will become of them throughout the evening? They appear shy and inhibited but that may change before the end of their stay at The Grand Paradise. After all, the real theme of this show is about "Young Love, Lost Love, and New Love." Above all else, I always remind people that Third Rail Projects is primarily a dance company. In the program, it is described as "one of the foremost companies creating site-specific, immersive, experimental dance-theater in the United States." Modern dance is used to entertain and to tell a variety of stories. The dancing in this production is well-integrated into the storyline and a pleasure to watch. Although no two individuals will have the same experience at The Grand Paradise, the two dance numbers that stood out for me was one involving "first-love" between the underwater dancer and the young daughter of the uptight family; and the attempted seduction of the young boy in that family by a group of dancers encouraging him to embrace his homosexual orientation. A later nude beach scene with the same boy revealed nothing but a miniature pig-in-a-blanket, which was quite disappointing and a let-down for the eager onlookers peeking through the slats of changing rooms located just off the beach. As a police officer on the beat might have said, "Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here!" Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is "a grower, not a shower." 

All of the dancers who bring The Grand Paradise to life are extremely talented performers and are very attractive. The choreography is inspired and utilized to exhibit sexuality and/or to tell a story. As doors close and open, you find yourself experiencing what is in a particular room. One of mine had a mandatory conga-line-style dance. The groups you are a part of tend to get smaller and smaller until, eventually, you may find yourself alone sitting in a closet looking at 1970s Playboy magazines using a flashlight. Then a woman calls you into her bedroom where you choose a record to play and the dress you wish her to wear. You engage in a pillow fight, she intimately hugs you and, then, thanks you for the experience. These interactions seemed forced and were unusually uncomfortable. Not only didn't I have a choice as to whom I would want to spend this intimate time with but the company member didn't seem to have the skills to put a guest at ease. Choice was missing from this production. If I were at a real resort, I would have gravitated to the room with entertainment and guests who shared my interests. The company might have then tailored individual experiences for those particular guests. Instead, we were turned into voyeurs instead of participants. In a realistic interactive experience, I could communicate with company members and get a response in real time. Perhaps I might be asked what I was looking for and be directed to a particular room. But here, we are all treated like cattle, to be directed into stalls without regard for our individual tastes and interests.

That having been said, The Grand Paradise is an experience you will not want to miss. It is part of the happenings of our decade, just as Baird Jones parties were the place to be in the 1980s and 1990s. The vibe I got from the attendees here was the same I recall getting from parties held at The Limelight, The Underground, and The Tunnel. These are cool artists, hipsters, and individuals making a contribution to the culture of our time. Be part of The Zeitgeist by going to The Grand Paradise, which runs through May 29, 2016. Tickets cost between $95.00 and $150.00 depending on the day you see it, when you purchase your ticket, and whether you go to see a late or early show. For more information, you can call 718-374-5196 or visit 

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