I saw *La grenouille avait raison* (*The Toad Knew*) at BAM on 10/13/17. I guess I'd describe it as a dance piece, but BAM puts it in the category of "physical theater," a genre I don't really understand. What ISN'T physical theater? Radio? A discussion for another time.
The production was by James Thierée. He was the lead performer, writer, set designer, co-lighting designer, and composer of the music. His mother, Victoria Thierée, did the enormous and beautiful toad puppet that came on at the end of the show. A side note: she is the daughter of Charles and Oona Chaplin, which makes James Thierée the grandson of Charles Chaplin and the great-grandson of Eugene O'Neill. Quite the impressive pedigree, n'est-ce pas? Here's a photo of Thierée with dancer Sonia Bel Hadj Brahim:
It got off to a very good start, full of beauty and wonder, marvelous things I'd never seen before. Then after about twenty minutes I realized that Thierée has two modes: spastic and goofy. Sometimes both at the same time. These are not modes that I find compelling, or to use a phrase from my wonderful late father-in-law, "That's not entertainment."
I went through quite a progression with this piece. I started off loving it, then I was a little skeptical, then it annoyed me, then I hated it. And when it had the nerve to continue going on, I became angry. It upset me because it seemed that most of the audience was enjoying it.
The set design had a strong steampunk vibe, which felt a little dated. The music was I guess nice to listen to, but a little droopy and dull, plus it's always a little disappointing when the music is canned rather than live. There were two long sequences of what sounded like excerpts from a Mozart violin concerto - - I'm not 100% sure of that because there was no credit in the program, which I think is sloppy and unethical. The Mozart invasions didn't seem to have any meaning or purpose.
One of the six performers was a singer, Ophélie Crispin, and she had a lovely voice. The high point of the piece was an R & B ballad (again, I have no idea what it was because it wasn't credited in the program), she sang along with the recording, doing her own counterpoint to the song. It was gorgeous. She was at the back of the stage, mostly standing still. I was supposed to be paying attention to the twitchy business being done by the three dancers at the front of the stage, but thankfully they didn't get in the way.
To summarize, I don't know what the toad knew, but I wish it had shared it with me.
[Photo by Max Gordon, used by permission of Brooklyn Academy of Music Press Office]