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*Elements of Oz,* 12/8/19


I saw *Elements of Oz* at NYU's Skirball Center on 12/8/19. It was a riff/re-imagining of *The Wizard of Oz* developed by and performed by The Builders Association. It was a delightful combination of live theatre, filmed theatre, projected YouTube clips, and special smart phone elements. I might describe it as The Wooster Group mixed with The Elevator Repair Service, or as Ivo van Hove with a sense of humor. I loved the show.

There were three actors: it opened with the older woman (maybe 60-ish) playing a woman who was an expert on *The Wizard of Oz* and had a large collection of Oziana (my word, not hers). She was thrown into a Dorothy costume and wig, put on a bed, and filmed moments from the last scene of the movie, with a younger woman (maybe 40-ish) playing Aunt Em and a man (maybe 40-ish) playing Uncle Henry. Both of these other actors also took a turn at playing Dorothy, and oddly I found the man (who was wiry and had a mustache) the most touching. The older woman also played Glinda and the younger woman played the Wicked Witch of the West. She had a fantastic cackle.

At one point we saw a YouTube video of a man explaining that the book was written during a depression in the 1880s and the film was made during a depression in the 1930s. According to this talking head, the author (L. Frank Baum) put lots of economic and political code into the book - - the scarecrow represents agriculture, the tin man industry, the lion the military, the yellow brick road is the gold standard, etc. This video led to a live re-creation of a Mike Wallace interview of Ayn Rand. They weren't talking about *The Wizard of Oz,* but they were talking about a lot of the same economic and political issues. The young woman who played the Wicked Witch also played Rand, and at a few moments she cackled. The live-on-stage interview was being filmed and projected onto a large screen above the actors, and when she cackled, they superimposed the face of the Wicked Witch onto her the actor's face. That was marvelous.

Another YouTube clip was an analysis by a gay man about why the movie is so important to the gays. Of course there's the Judy Garland connection. Also Dorothy lives in a place that's bland, where people are trying to box her in and tell her to behave, and she goes to this fabulous place where she finds her true self and her sense of power. Best of all, it's a story about two women trying to kill each other over a pair of shoes!

They did another interview re-enactment later in the show, this one an interview with Salman Rushdie on Wisconsin Public Radio! He was swept away by the movie as a little boy in India - - to him, it's a story about immigration, though it doesn't make sense to him why Dorothy would want to go back to Kansas.

One of my favorite moments in the show was an explanation and re-enactment of the moment when Dorothy opens the door the house and sees Oz in Technicolor. Garland had a stunt double and stand-in, a former Olympic swimmer named Bobbie Koshay. Here's how they did the Kansas to Oz, sepia to Technicolor transition: they built a wall and door and painted it in sepia colors, and gave Koshay a dull brown wig and brown and off white gingham dress. Koshay walked up to the door and opened it. We see Technicolor Oz through the door, and then Garland, with her reddish hair and blue gingham dress, came into the frame and walked through the door. Genius.

Another fun element of the show was created for those of us who had smartphones or tablets. We downloaded the Elements of Oz app before the show and signed into their wifi in the theater, and at a few moments in the show we got an alert and saw something extra. Early in the show I held up my phone and looked at the stage through my phone and saw the twister moving around the set. Later the screen was populated with flying monkeys, poppies, etc. It wasn't overdone, it was fun.

Here's a trailer of the show:


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