Performance artist, playwright, videographer and star actress Amy Munz attempts to explore the human experience of love in her latest one-woman show “Patterns: For Some Reason, It Really Tickled Me,” playing at the Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion in San Francisco. With three screens of video playing simultaneously as Munz performs as her overwhelming six different characters, “Patterns” manifests as an introspective but overwrought piece of the avant-garde. Though it ambitiously invites the audience into the characters’ consciousness and into their disparate feelings of love, the slow pace, imprecise writing and unique format befuddles far more than it excites.
Adela, Amelia, Abigail, Amot, Ava and Anais take turns detailing their complex encounters with love. Munz traverses from an intense account of physical touch and a man’s affections to the protective relationship between girl and dog to the frightening love of Christ and to the intimate love between parent and child. With a bare stage and minimal props and lighting, the projected videos provide all the context.
“I’m really interested for the audience to take on an active role … and do your own reading,” Munz said. “You’re activated in a way, and you’re also empowered.”
Munz’ multimedia performance presents a “new model for theater,” but it falls short in execution. With one screen upstage and two on both sides of the audience, “Patterns” forces the audience to twist and turn their heads as they attempt to piece together some sort of comprehensive narrative thread.
Munz does excel at her original cinematography, though it is a laborious and challenging form of storytelling. She presents beautifully stark and poignant moving images: close-ups of pink lilies held by a silent lover, flashbacks of swaying meats in a butcher shop and a depressed Munz at her empty birthday party. At one point, Munz’s parents appear separately on the left and right screens and then walk in perfect synchrony into the center screen, defying the confines of physical space.
Her delivery itself is a work of talent and something to be commended. She shifts sharply and effortlessly between characters as quickly as a cut scene in one of her videos. Munz remarked that “it’s important to show how a body can go through such change,” and she reflects that intention with her varied representations of love.
But the six characters themselves are excessive. Only the vivacious Abigail and her dog Ruby are memorable, but Abigail’s consistently shrill giggles distract from her nuanced appreciation of the land she lives on and the deep care she has for her animal companion. The momentary Ava and adolescent Adela are forgettable and quickly overshadowed by the other characters. One fault of this is Munz’s decision to dive headfirst into the characters’ internal monologues so that the audience does not get the introduction they need. Rather, they have to depend on projected titles of the characters’ names for clarity.
As the show reaches the ending, an autobiographical Amy character narrates: “Is that what you’re asking me? You think I’m in love? And what? You think I have an answer?”
Likewise, she doesn’t provide one throughout the entirety of “Patterns.” This is a production where form speaks louder than content. The videos and simultaneous live performance are creative and challenge traditional perceptions of time and space in the theater. But the content, incoherent storyline and the purpose behind each character’s pensive musings and impassioned reflections are lost.
Munz “(brings) in these different elements from the avant-garde world (that) have the potential to bring life into the experience and shift what you think typically of what a theater performance can be.” But her artistic vision hardly translates on the stage. What’s meant to be a profound exploration of love manifests as a confusing night at the theater.
“Patterns” is playing at the Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavillion through August 16.
Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected].