Djinn

An environmental performance piece based on Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel.

“In Appino and Corson’s Djinn you’ll discover why Aristotle included Spectacle as one of the six essentials of the theatrical experience. With a shoestring budget and a superabundant imagination they transform a structure built for utilitarian ends into a gigantic cabinet of wonders, resonating with the poetic impact of sheer space, the dialectic of light and shadow.” – Roger Downey, Seattle Weekly

Djinn premiered at the newly decommissioned Sandpoint Naval Base in Seattle Washington. An environmental performance piece based on Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel, it told the story of a young woman who joins a clandestine organization under the command of an alluring androgynous American girl named Djinn. Having agreed to wear dark glasses and carry a cane like a blind man, she comes to realize through bizarre encounters, recurring visual images and fractured time sequences that she is truly blind. Her search for the meaning of her mission and for possible clues to the identity of the mysterious Djinn, echoes her own quest for identity in an ever-shifting landscape of flesh and fiction.

Audience members met in downtown Seattle where they boarded busses with blacked out windows that carried them to and undisclosed location. They were treated as members of a crime team attempting to solve a mystery. They followed a path through streets, cafes and furnished rooms of a Paris mysteriously emptied of people. They learn that Djinn may be dead, or perhaps never existed: unless it is our hero who is dead, or dreaming, or foreseeing events that may occur in the future . . .

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Reviews

“For the last 2500 years or so, theatres have been getting smaller and smaller, for the net gain of emotional intimacy but an equal loss in splendor. In Appino and Carson’s Djinn youÕll discover why Aristotle included Spectacle as one of the six essentials of the theatrical experience. With a shoestring budget and a superabundant imagination they transform a structure built for utilitarian ends into a gigantic cabinet of wonders, resonating with the poetic impact of sheer space, the dialectic of light and shadow.” – Roger Downey, Seattle Weekly

By staying away from the typical starting blocks of what passes for theater in this town they have created an experience that’s smart, breathtakingly beautiful, thought provoking, and fun. It’s smart, it’s entertaining it’s skillfully produced; it’s all the things youÕd expect from good theater. – Matthew Richter, The Stranger

But the real stars of the evening are Appino and designer Dan Corson – and the site they have selected for the show…Not since their legendary “Sub Rosa” collaboration of 1994 has Seattle seen theater so truly worthy of a capital T. – Roger Downey, The Seattle Weekly

“Djinn” is a richly theatrical exploration of space, time and consciousness…Director Appino and her collaborators have concocted an incredibly haunting and thrilling theater event…”Djinn” is replete with theatrical ingenuity. – Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, The Seattle Post-Intellegencer

More Than Arty Gimmicks –
`Djinn’ Stretches Physical Boundaries Of Theater

by Misha Berson
Seattle Times Theater Review
May 22, 1997

The artists behind “Djinn” want to evoke an extraordinary theater-going experience you won’t forget. And they succeed.

For each performance, patrons gather at Annex Theatre, receive badges and a video orientation, then are shepherded by Metro bus to an enormous warehouse building, in a location kept secret until the trip home.

But it is not the silly Big Brotherish business of getting briefed, ordered around and playing dress-up (in trench coats and fedoras) that makes this ambitious field trip of a show so memorable.

“Djinn” is most impressive when it unspools a mesmerizing series of visual tableaus, in a huge, spooky warehouse transformed by director Nikki Appino, art director Dan Corson and their cohorts into a monumental noir landscape of light and darkness, shadow and smoke, silence and sound. The effect is rather like taking a guided tour through someone else’s enigmatic dream. Or being an extra in an elliptical French art film that stubbornly defies decoding.

Stage is set

Which figures, because the blueprint for “Djinn” is a fragmented mystery/spy/sci-fi novel of the same title by director-writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose best-known work, “Last Year at Marienbad,” is another atmospheric puzzle of a love story, set in a perplexing world of blind alleys and deja confusions.

One enters the cool, grainy universe of “Djinn” through a long office space eerily outfitted with rows of identical desks, chairs and lamps. Surveillance video cameras stashed around the site create a creepy vicarious paranoia, extended when the crowd divides into small groups, and gets briefed on the strange disappearance of Simon Lecoeur, a teacher who left behind a diary filled with curious entries.

Ushered next into a cavernous room the size of a football field, viewers witness scenes from Lecouer’s journal re-enacted live and on film, with the amplified voice of Simon (played by the suitably androgynous Amy Caton-Ford) narrating.

Not much stock can be placed in the deliberately absurd, shifty and symbol-laden conspiracy plot. Let’s leave it that Simon gets enmeshed with a weird bunch of real/imagined, alive/dead types: the seductive, chameleonic Djinn (Christina Mastin), two suspicious children (Savannah Migliuri and Ian Nelson-Roehl, and a malevolent cab driver/waiter/official (Jim Ragland, also the show’s co-composer).

An epic production

Apart from a few extended patches of pretentiously inscrutable dialogue, “Djinn” evolves in visions that materialize suddenly, seamlessly, astonishingly all over the vast warehouse. Working on epic scale, Corson and Appino conjure mysterioso lighting effects and play around ingeniously with scale and perspective. The most breathtaking stage picture: a pair of actors strolling forward, followed by a rolling, 40-foot-tall backdrop of whirling smoke, a virtual tsunami of glowing smoke.

Infusions of darkly rhapsodic music from Ragland and Talia Toni Marcus (who plays an odd stringed horn instrument, the stroviola) complement the mise en scene. And Terry Simpson’s witty video sequence brings another perspective to this modestly budgeted but technically sophisticated spectacle.

Sure, it would also be swell if the philosophical chatter, audience participation and techno-fascist references in “Djinn” added up to more than arty gimmicks. But on the sensual and subliminal level, the show excels wonderfully at scrambling perceptions and stretching the physical boundaries of theater.