The rigged games of NO PLACE
“By random selection, Player A will begin first. Second Player: Player B. Third Player: Player C.”
The game is rigged. This is clear from the very beginning of No Place, which appeared as part of The Tank’s Lady Fest on August 25. Andrea Ang of Square One Collective wrote and directed the piece, and Juliana Suaide, Sarah McEneaney, and Ana Cantorán Viramontes played Players A, B, and C, respectively.
Have you ever played the dot game? Make a grid of dots. Player One connects two dots, horizontally or vertically. Player Two does the same, and so on if there are more players. The goal is to make a square, and to prevent your opponents from making any.
Dear reader, this responder loathes this game. Because the first few moves consist of making every move except the third side of a square (which sets up your opponent to get the fourth), whoever makes the first square inevitably reaps the rest of the boxes from the grid as one square’s fourth side becomes another square’s third, and when you get one square you get to keep going until you stop. Playing this game for me is a game of constant vigilance against making that accursed third side, thus bringing on my own demise, and hoping the other person does so instead. The result is that winning feels cheap, and losing feels stupid.
Watching the three Players go through an elaborate and very tightly regulated game for citizenship to “The Promised Land,” the dot game would have been more than enough to create a natural tension between the players, with which to fuel their antagonism, and eventual alliances, secrets, and betrayals. So when No Place piles on more and more difficulties – changing the rules, shifting the goalposts to keep them on their toes, offering Player A advantages that makes it seem like she might be a spy – I felt like the play (or at least I) lost track of the logic of the game.
The world was so full of rigging that it was difficult to discern why the people in it had any hope left at all, any thought that some redeemable life was remotely possible. The prison camp-sounding place where they came from called The Bay, the mysterious Promised Land, the gaming apparatus that regulates their bodies into rigid shapes and formations, nothing is cause for inspiration in this bleak, bleak world (aside maybe from some references to family members somewhere on the outside).
Part of my frustration with how rigged the game was that there was no clear idea where the rigging was coming from. This was clearly part of the point the piece seemed to make: in any highly unequal world – whether No Place’s year 2075 or our own 2019 – systemic violence done on individuals is a villain without a face.
Odd, then, that the AI robot or “Masked Figure” as the program indicates (played by Natalie Ahn) was indeed embodied. Still, her dancing as she mopped up the game board, and other such actions, were a needed source of comic relief, and also perhaps a pointed example of the banality of evil.
The intriguing play between freedom and bodily regulation could be seen most in what might be named The Decompression Dance. After each round of the game, the disembodied voice encouraged the three players to decompress, and then played extremely loud music. You might think this is their opportunity to let it all hang out for a bit, but no, this is a choreographed dance and they must participate. This motif was repeated with little variation, but the first time it happened was delightful and clever. The dancers moved with enthusiasm and clearly took pleasure in it, despite the fact that this opportunity for relaxation was hardly relaxing.
Confusion is clearly a theme they are playing with, but unfortunately as an audience member I felt beaten over the head with it. And because I couldn’t quite trust that the logic of the play’s world wasn’t itself confused, I grew less engaged. In a way, the play was too effective in conveying the way these systems break down a person. The Players play on, but my spirit was worn down.