North Atlantic
On the Boards, 100 W Roy St, 217-9888. $25-$28. Thurs-Sun at 8, Nov 16-19.

"A FEARLESS ACTRESS. Her command of the dramatic gesture, her control of vocal intonation combined with surprising outbursts of sound and motion, and the speed with which she shifts mood and character astound. In each production Valk mutates, shifting, remaking herself. You have no idea who she really is, except that each time you see her it's like a minor miracle. How does she do that?"--A. M. Holmes in "The Best of 1998," ArtForum, December, 1998.


Stranger: I'm getting over a cold, so if I'm a little--

Kate Valk: You don't sound too weird.


I'm very excited that you guys [the Wooster Group] are coming back to town.

Yeah, so are we.


The last two shows you've done in Seattle were LSD--

[LSD (Just the High Points...) begins with a row of men reading from notable counterculture books of the 1950s, ranging from Aldous Huxley to William S. Burroughs. Then the table becomes the setting for an amphetamine-paced performance of excerpts of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, making explicit the play's McCarthy-hearings allegory--only, because Miller would not allow them to use his play, a member of the Wooster Group wrote a disguised text that references 1950s suburbia but matches Miller's verbal rhythms precisely. In this section the women of the troupe come out in Puritan dress, including Kate Valk in blackface as the maid, Tituba. The cast then meticulously re-creates a rehearsal of the previous sequence that they did while tripping on acid. It's chaotic and giddy, and features Valk spinning around while pulling a tie tightly around her neck, trying to make herself faint (as Tituba does in The Crucible). Finally, Valk becomes a Cuban/Mexican dancer (wearing a sombrero and a painted-on mustachio) while other performers recite portions of a debate between G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary, culminating in a member of the debate's audience describing how he was shot in the face with a shotgun by someone tripping on LSD. The debate's moderator asks Leary how he feels; the last words spoken in the production are Leary's reply: "I feel very sad." ]


--and Brace Up!

When was Brace Up!? That was a long time ago.

[Brace Up!, which uses Chekhov's The Three Sisters as a launching pad, was presented at On the Boards in 1991 as a work-in-progress. What I mostly remember is that an actor couldn't be there because of a family illness, so they replaced him with a Godzilla movie on a TV monitor; every time one of this actor's lines came up, Godzilla would roar furiously.]


Why are you reviving North Atlantic? The show seems very rooted in the Reagan era.

It's not, it's pretty timeless. It's not message-oriented, so it doesn't have to relate to current events. We revived it because it was underappreciated when we first did it. It's all about sex, power, and language--and a lot of events happened after we did it, Tailhook and a lot of court-martials, that make it reverberate on new levels since then.


I read the script and as I recall it's not as video-oriented as much of the Wooster Group's work.

No, there are no TVs in it at all.


I've recently seen--particularly out of New York [where the Wooster Group is based]--a lot of work where the content is driven by technology. Did you see a recent show called Jet Lag?

Uhhh....

[Jet Lag, which was presented at On the Boards last year, digitally re-created diagrams of the insides of airports and airplanes as a backdrop to the story of a woman trying to maintain custody of her grandson by making 167 consecutive flights between NYC and Amsterdam, never leaving the airports, until she literally died of jet lag. But aside from the spectacle of the computer-generated images, the piece told you nothing that isn't implicit in that one-sentence summary; the production existed solely because of what these computers could do, not because the creators had some compelling human insight.]

Why are we talking about Jet Lag? I'm not a critic, and I don't know how they made it.


Because--

I can only talk about my work.


Right, but--

As a matter of fact, I would prefer you didn't mention Jet Lag in your article. Don't compare us, because I can't speak about that. I only saw it once, and I'm not a critic.


How do you use technology in a way that doesn't dictate the content?

We've been working with microphones and TVs ever since I joined the company. For us, those are our props and set pieces, the things we love to play with. The technology is an extension of ourselves. I don't find it dehumanizing. It's almost like a dance [when we use] it.

"In other words, there is a lot going on onstage, which could be an intelligent house straight out of Bill Gates' fantasies, such is the precision with which its various special effects are operated. Front and center is Valk... her voice miked at all times, her image often projected onto a TV screen directly in front of her...."--from Ben Williams' review of House/Lights (a play based on a mix of Gertrude Stein and the softcore film Olga's House of Shame) on newyork.citysearch.com.

We're not trying to obscure by using [technology]. We use it so you can hear better, so you can see people's faces better, so that we're having fun playing games with it.


Uh, sorry, I'm not criticizing your use of technology.

I'm sorry, it's been a long day, so--I think we care more about the performer and the performance than most theater I see. It's about the real life up there, the real person standing in front of you. I mean, why do people go to the theater anymore? Because you want to see somebody sweating or crying, you want to be in a small room with people in front of you.


How do you find different parts of the country respond to your work?

Well, we don't tour very much in the U.S. There's not a network in place for touring. There's many more in Europe.


So you tour more heavily in Europe?

Oh yeah. It's great to [present] work in different cultures. Especially North Atlantic. I thought, "It's gonna be too much American: slang, too fast." But it was wonderful; they found resonances that were lost on American audiences. I had several European friends tell me they grew up watching WWII movies, so they knew all these characters.


Why don't you tour more in the U.S.?

There's no money for it. The city of Frankfurt's fund for the arts is bigger that this entire country's. Does that tell you a little something?