Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: ADA/AVA (3LD Art & Technology Center)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 22, 2015

in Theater-New York


Visually striking and radiating love and sincerity, Manual Cinema’s shadow-puppet show Ada/Ava, which attempts to explore septuagenarian Ada’s inner turmoil  after the death of her twin sister Ava, leaves one emotionally unsatisfied; for all of the production’s lovely elements the story is dull, the show boring.

Cinema, Manual, Xfest, ADA/AVA, Metcalf, 09-11-14

Ada (Julia Miller) and Ava (Kara Davidson) have been inseparable all their lives. They live in and maintain a lighthouse, drink tea and play chess, until one day, when Ava nods off and doesn’t wake up. Ada, despondent, finds herself at a carnival, in a hall of mirrors, and ends up going into a nether world in search of her sister.

Cinema, Manual, Xfest, ADA/AVA, Metcalf, 09-11-14

Were this a true journey the show might have worked despite its questionable premise: Ava dies in her 70s of natural causes, maybe it’s not all that imperative that her sister drag her back up from the underworld. But instead what we get is Ada encountering a bunch of random spooky things—like people turning to skeletons—instead of overcoming obstacles. The intention here is to illustrate her emotional and psychological states. In fact it’s weak, lazy writing. It doesn’t take much to come up with wacky hallucinations for a character; it’s much more difficult to invent a meaningful plot in which a character’s actions carry dramatic weight. Credited not as written but as created by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Ms. Miller, and Kyle Vegter, Ada/Ava desperately needs the services of a competent playwright.

Cinema, Manual, Xfest, ADA/AVA, Metcalf, 09-11-14

Ada/Ava’s dramatic failings bring out flaws in the production which would have been forgivable otherwise, such as the fact that the puppeteers are in plain sight throughout the performance, even though their presence adds nothing to the show. And although most of the imagery—created with hundreds of cutout puppets on 4 old fashioned overhead projectors—ranges from clever to inspired, there are occasions when it is redundant and sloppy.

Cinema, Manual, Xfest, ADA/AVA, Metcalf, 09-11-14

Still, with all its flaws, Ada/Ava is a curiosity that is worth a look, boasting an evocative, multilayered sound design by Ben Kauffman, as well as excellent music by Maren Celest, Michael Hilger and Kyle Vegter; especially captivating is Ms. Celest’s dreamy singing.

Cinema, Manual, Xfest, ADA/AVA, Metcalf, 09-11-14photos by Howard Ash

3-Legged Dog and Manual Cinema
part of The Tank’s Flint & Tinder
3LD Art & Technology Center
ends on July 5, 2015
EXTENDED to July 26, 2015
for tickets, call 212 645-0374 or visit 3LD NYC


Brent Pallas June 24, 2015 at 6:28 am

My wife and I really loved AVA/ADA. We knew nothing about this show. We were glad to discover not only this show but the theater we never knew about only blocks from our apartment even after living here for 35 years! Shame on us.

We found the play/performance truly mesmerizing. Like nothing we’ve ever seen and that is truly hard to say in theater these days. AVA/ADA was a unique and transcendent theater experience that mixed so many seemingly disparate elements. Shadow puppetry, live music and actors, cinema. It had Edward Gorey-like macabre elements. Very illustrative. It was essentially a ‘silent’ movie which took a bit of getting use to. I haven’t seen too many silent movies so my psyche/senses are not attuned to them. Similarly my nieces and nephews won’t watch any ‘classic’ black & white movies. I guess, thank you Ted Turner Classic movies for colorizing them. I guess.

We also loved Mr. Zvonkov’s mention of Maren Celest’s performance and the other musicians who were mostly in the shadows for their fine performances. This was a strange hybrid of a piece. Perhaps like eating escargot for the first time. I loved it. Others just think snail.

Dmitry Zvonkov June 26, 2015 at 1:09 am

Thank you Mr. Pallas for your comment. I’m glad to hear that both you and your wife enjoyed the show, glad to know that many others did as well, including Ben Brantley of the Times. Ada/Ava’s creators put a great deal of effort, imagination and love into their invention–the hopeful, benevolent energy in the room was palpable–and I’m happy to know that their work is being appreciated and they, encouraged.

Brent Pallas June 26, 2015 at 11:29 am

Dmitry – Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. I do appreciate your review though I disagree. Your brevity reminded me a lot of Edith Oliver’s reviews years ago in The New Yorker. Tight and concise and, like you, she had frequent applause for the lighting people or costumes which are often overlooked. We also enjoyed Ms. Celest’s performance which could have very easily gone unseen. I had to nudge my wife to point out that someone was actually singing in a Billy Holiday like tone.
This performance reminded me of one we saw years ago in the Winter
Garden of the World Financial Center. It was a screening of Fritz Lang’s silent movie Metropolis with original music by a live orchestra (I’ve forgotten their name). We arrived late so it was standing room only. I thought, well we’ll stand for a bit and go home. There was a little boy standing next to us with his parents and I thought, he won’t be here long. I was wrong on both counts. All the best and thanks for your many thoughts on the theater here.

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