Are You My Negative Space? A Performance About Comics, War, and Love, Live Action Cartoonists, at the Athenaeum Theatre. This crew of former Northwestern students brings a welcome zest, mingled with quiet poignancy, to its multimedia exploration of the spaces between images, people, and ideologies. Writer Natsu Onoda also directs the six ensemble members, who fill the small space with their uneven but frequently beguiling brand of ink-stained anarchy, scrawling on large sheets of paper on which videos and slides are often projected.
The most provocative segment suggests a connection between Japanese imperialism before World War II and the current U.S. policy of preemptive attacks. We see projected a list of nations–first some invaded by Japan, then invaded by other countries–punctuated by video overlays of the war cry “Banzai!” Among the countries listed is Iraq, and the actors repeatedly chant, “This space is too small. We must invade other spaces.” In a twisted comic gem, the womb is explored as “potential space”: the performers use power tools to cut open cartoon cutouts of three of the actors, supposedly aiming to free the fetuses drawn on them.
There were a few technical difficulties on the night I attended, and some moments had a whiff of self-indulgence. But the performers’ enthusiasm and impish sense of fun kept the material grounded. And the company deserves points for originality, enlivening the cartoonist’s art in a performance context.