Aura, Chicago Viewpoints Ensemble, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. When it comes to making theater, technique is essential. But when a technique solidifies into a creed, Art becomes Inertia. Director Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints technique, from which the Chicago Viewpoints Ensemble derives its name, seems nominally useful at best, at least as it’s described by playwright Tina Landau in Theories in Practice. Bogart’s nine Viewpoints (they’re always capitalized, for some reason), including Tempo, Gesture, and Spatial Relations, are lenses through which stage action and theatrical space can be scrutinized. “Anne might ask two actors to make a movement sequence using the Viewpoint which expresses the relationship between the characters,” Landau writes. “The text will then be ‘put on’ the movement.” Of course, the real challenge of acting is not to express a relationship but to have one, and thereby “put on” the play.
The Viewpoints ensemble, in their collaborative adaptation of Carlos Fuentes’s 1962 novella Aura, apply Bogart’s technique with such studied humorlessness that I suspected a creed lurking backstage. Fuentes’s Jungian-Borgesian anima fantasy of an old woman luring a young male historian into her mazelike home where the younger version of herself skulks is hypnotically confusing. But with all its hyperdeliberate abstract movement, weighty pauses, and logical inconsistencies, this Aura is simply confused. Each of the four actors holes up in his or her own imaginary universe; they may all have their Viewpoints, but they’d do well to find their way into the same play.