To video or not to video, that is the question

If anyone knows where technology is taking the age-old art of live performance, they must have come here in a time machine. But one thing seems certain: Video is becoming a more and more important element in theater.

The important question is, in what ways? That’s one of the (many, many) things on my mind as I was watching Titus Redux, the neo-Shakespearean anti-war fantasia from Not Man Apart – Physical Theatre Ensemble in collaboration with the New American Theatre. It’s playing through Sunday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as part of RADAR L.A.

Titus is visually inventive in a dozen different ways, and some of the video – projected on a movie-size screen – works well. In one scene, Titus (updated into an Afghan war veteran suffering from PTSD) is being tortured on camera, and the face of that camera’s “audience” (a bearded terrorist, we presume) towers over the proceedings.

But director John Farmanesh-Bocca also uses video is the way I like least in theater: to further the same action that otherwise is happening onstage, sometimes for minutes at a time. For me at least, this mix of genres is jarring, because film acting and stage acting are truly different disciplines.

And then there’s the simple attention problem.  In one of my favorite scenes, Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Jennifer Landon), dressed in a girlie cheerleader outfit, hunches over a red, Linus-size piano – decorated with a Ken doll and an Elmo juice box – and sings a spare melancholy tune. My eyes were riveted on the actor’s face until the last few seconds when suddenly I realized I wasn’t watching the video. A moment of minor panic: What did I miss?