Crocodile Drift

24 Feb 2007

It's cold. The smell of the pine trees is overpowering. I'm alone in the forest, surrounded by a blue-white mist, checking each tree for movement, because I don't know what's here or even what could be here.

A figure approaches and I'm instantly on guard. With a jolt I recognise the wooden handbag. Impossibly, it's her. I start running - if I lose her a second time I may never find her again. I reach out and place a hand on her shoulder. She stares blankly at me, turns, and walks into the haze. We don't speak. Her mask makes it impossible to read her face, but the message is clear: I am alone here.

So begins the play-within-a-play. Lost and confused, I walk through four levels of abandoned warehouse, seeking my love, my reason to be here, or at least someone who knows I exist. There's a whole town up here - a cafe, a motel, any number of bars, along with the forest, a schoolroom, and apparently a barn that I heard about but never found.

Sometimes there are other lost souls, masked and silent. Sometimes there are none. Always there are the black masks, motionless in the corners, easily mistaken for scenery if you see them at all. Early on, I tip my hat to one experimentally, but quickly we all arrive at the same rules: you can move freely but never block the movement of others, you cannot touch anything, or speak. You have no relationship with others. Only the Devil himself can see you, and then only when he chooses to[1].

This is what it's like to be a ghost.

The actors quickly make themselves known. At least once I'm mistaken for one of them and draw a small crowd of masks before turning to reveal my own. More than once I suspect an actor of wearing an audience mask, but there's no way to tell. They've mastered the crocodile drift, moving slowly, steadily, and silently, and you simply don't see them until they want to be seen.

When they do, they're often followed by throngs of audience members - the ones who've figured out that they are being lured to the next set-piece spectacular scene. But the scene will run whether the audience has assembled or not. At one point, returning to the forest, I catch a glimpse of a woman under a tree. Only the masked figures around her make me go back and see that it's a lone actress quietly performing one of the more powerful monologues of the play. Maybe six people saw that scene - there was a spectacular choreographed fight going on elsewhere on the floor[2].

Even as a traditional play, this would be first-rate. The standard of acting, choreography, and sets was the equal of anything I've seen. But as a freeform experience, it was stunning. It's still ricocheting back and forth across my mind. I haven't just seen Faust. I've been him.

You may remain inside the performance space for up to three hours, but the performance space will remain inside you for days.

fn1. Generally when he's pouring you a drink.

fn2. I know because, the first time, I watched it. That's right - they do the whole thing twice.