Normal and Happy is very difficult to sum up, not only because of the proliferation of characters and scenes, but also because of their general and basic morphability. These bodies in contact are wrestling, making love, becoming insect, struggling, dominating, submitting, melting. Faces become visages of anger fear, pain, shock, horror, rage, vacuity… A lack of identifiers allow the characters to become many things in quick succession, though over time, we begin to recognize certain threads of behavior. There’s the lumpy tribal slapstick quartet, the vinyl spartan insect duo, the vinyl s&m nurse machine soldiers, etc. These groups all seem poisoned by the compelling need to carry out a precise series of absurd actions. But it remains unclear if that demand is coming from an external source or rises from deeply shared internal forces. Or are they all simply mental projections coming from the kaleidoscopic cuddle twins?
Normal and Happy is organized by a series of overlapping vignettes, in which a character or group of characters appear, make some kind of physical statement in which conformity causes strange patterns, and then fade off stage. We are guided through this mirrored labyrinthian narrative by the powers of repulsion and attraction, which often mix and trade places. I am resisting the urge to describe (or rather attempt to describe) these scenes. Certain moments hit with the brutal intensity of a fever dream, as when the lovemaking couple becomes a soldier dragging a dead body.
But then there are so many other moments which swirl in a kind of distopian baseness. It’s like watching a cannibalizing praying mantis. The forces which compel the insect to eat its own kind are both totally foreign and deep at the heart of human experience. In the midst of these passing scenes of horror, there sits the kaleidoscope box, within which a certain peace reigns. But it seems likely that this box is only a space of screenal nostalgia, protected from the outside world by ignorance or naiveté.
Music is a powerful uniting force for Normal and Happy. From relentless jabbing piano, pounding blocks, digital noise, synchronized stomping and shouting emerges a haunting lullaby about the loss of personal identity. Many powerful moments are entirely low-tech, formed simply by pounding voices and bodies.
A few small comments of criticism. Occasionally, the use of extremely loud noise feels overdetermined, as the attempt to create an effect shears away from the actual volume level. I remember this also being a problem in their previous production, benumbed. It is possible to create sounds that are physically affecting without being painful. Another area of overdetermination was in the transitions between scenes. Often these seams are joined effectively by a shared gesture or movement, but sometimes the attempt to hide or diminish the exits of a group only made me want to watch them more. A more factual approach could be suitable.
tEEth are tackling big, ambitious, disturbing and courageous subjects with both elegance and brute force. I’m excited to see where they go next.
-posted by Seth Nehil