Family feuds and other psychological operations in Cold War Germany in The Emotions of Normal People | Theater | Indy Week
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Family feuds and other psychological operations in Cold War Germany in The Emotions of Normal People 

The Emotions of Normal People

Photo by Alex Maness

The Emotions of Normal People

The CIA estimates that at the height of hostilities in East Germany, one person in seven was a collaborator with Stasi, the state secret police. In a totalitarian society, such blanket surveillance warped conventional concepts of intimacy, identity and trust.

So it's apt that Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern's multimedia exploration of that world takes its title, THE EMOTIONS OF NORMAL PEOPLE, from psychologist William Moulton Marston's influential investigation of dominance, inducement, submission and compliance in human behavior. And it's no coincidence that Miyuki Su's compelling, skeletal set depicts a claustrophobic two-story house whose walls are made of see-through (and hear-through) scrims.

Emotions probes this furtive world by individually examining the members of one extended family. As it does, we quickly learn, in a roiling mix of movement, music, video and narrative, that they are living in an ongoing state of interpersonal siege, unable to trust one another enough to confide their true dreams, grievances and desires. Gerty (Jessica Hudson) begins with a jaded rundown of each relative's likelihood of being an informant. The agitated Horst (Shelby Hahn) seeks psychological openness commensurate with the nudism he advocates. Elke (Jessica Flemming) gets increasingly fed up with the limits of intimacy as she sings ELO's "Telephone Line." Work strictures stifle the vivid Birgit (Emma Nadeau), and Peter (Dale Wolf) rails in secret agony against a sister who cannot accept his gender change.

Co-directors Nicola Bullock, Jaybird O'Berski and Tony Perucci reveal the utter banality of the sexual role-play Eugen (Liam O'Neill) indulges in and blast vintage Eric Carmen to drown out the observations of Hildebran (Samantha Rahn) that the culture's best and brightest are "sheep."

Dana Marks' unnamed character presides over these unhappy, hollowed souls. With her speech electronically modified to resemble Laurie Anderson's "Voice of Authority," Marks chillingly embodies state control in a costume seemingly lifted from Tron. In one dance number, she goes on camera to memorably lip-sync a mutated version of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film."

It is not always clear how the dance and movement sequences advance this story and this world, but the barrage of images in Alex Maness' live and prerecorded video montages and Michael Palm's audio play list reinforce dead-end consumerism and the primacy of surface appearance as the only available shelters in this dystopia. But clearly, they aren't sufficient to protect these citizen inmates, or permit them any escape.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Post-nuclear family"

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