Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints training method, which she uses as the basis of the Saratoga International Theater Institute, isn’t revolutionary: Bogart herself has said it’s nothing new. As in dance, time is addressed through tempo, duration, and repetition; space is addressed through shape, gesture, spatial relationships, and the topography of the stage. A good production of Death of a Salesman should do the same.
Bogart’s Viewpoints method begins with improvised movement by the company and eventually arrives at a performance–which is what Chicago Viewpoints Ensemble, an engaging new company fresh from working with Bogart and her colleague Tina Landau, has done, driven by a wish to expose Chicago audiences “to what we think is the most exciting thing in theater today.” But it isn’t a new gospel they’re preaching, even in the world of Chicago performance: companies such as Doorika, Goat Island, and the Cook County Theatre Company all employ similar methods.
Still, Chicago Viewpoints is a welcome addition to the scene, unpretentious and energetic. Their first production–loosely the story of a novelist who culls characters from personal ads–is a sharp, well-focused, gently humorous examination of the power of sexual attraction. The ensemble works together beautifully, but most refreshing is the attention to language, a feature often overlooked in this sort of work. Never deliberately obscure, they illuminate what they’re doing with simple poetry as well as movement–defining the frustration of premature ejaculation in hilarious haiku, redefining the word “parasite” (it becomes “Paris-ite,” suddenly the height of sophistication), and playing riffs on such pop-culture standbys as Star Wars and The Twilight Zone.