It's the same feeling that John Jesurun taps into in "Stopped Bridge of Dreams" at La MaMa. In it, Jesurun reinvents the floating world of Saikaku for the 21st century by creating a literal floating world of his own: an airplane of iniquity, a flying Japanese tea house where clients can live in luxury with a companion of their choosing. Run by Mrs. X (Black-Eyed Susan) and her son, Hiroshi (Preston Martin), the plane touches down only to pick up clients before resuming its anonymous revolutions around the world.
What might be an overblown premise is redeemed by the production's surreal quality. Despite the many references to Japanese culture and names, the cast is almost entirely white. Martin's Hiroshi has a southern drawl, a jarring contrast as he discusses serene floating boathouses. The bizarre juxtapositions continue in Jesurun's fusing of old and new parallel worlds, with mentions of Kindles and rock bands next to those of cloistered emperors and humble warriors. New surprises keep unfolding in origami fashion: A barista appears, Bob Dylan lyrics are used as incantations, you suddenly become aware of the presence of a dog. It's a strangeness that comes from a lack of temporal or spatial context, one that recalls a dream state.
The production incorporates video, both in pre-taped segments and in real-time shooting, with the actors retreating to the outskirts of the stage to talk directly to the cameras. The effect emphasizes the disconnection between performer and viewer. Rather than experiencing the flesh and blood in front of your eyes, you tune in to watch the performers' faces projected on a giant screen above your head. The live video, produced by CultureHub, is integrated seamlessly and presented in perfectly framed pictures, an impressive feat considering the multiple cameras being juggled.
Jesurun calls this "cross-media storytelling," which gets the point across, albeit in an unnecessarily complicated way. More frustrating is the show's website, which is touted as "an extension of the live production that charts the geography of the characters' relationships and histories" but is little more than a collection of video clips and quotes from the production. As a website, it's nice. As an extension of a show, it's not much.
Guest performers will appear throughout the run, with their own scenes to be interspersed among the regular vignettes in the script and theoretically broadcast online. But this changing and rearranging highlights the fragmented nature of the show, a series of scenes with little to connect them or make the evening more than the sum of its parts. "Stopped Bridge of Dreams" leaves one feeling contemplative, confused, and just a bit unsatisfied, which might be the product of recognizing, for an instant, the floating world in which we live.
Presented by and at La MaMa ETC, 66 E. Fourth St., NYC. Jan. 22–Feb. 5. Wed.–Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, (212) 475-7710, www.theatermania.com, or www.lamama.org.