Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville meets the ASMR phenomenon in Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty’s multimedia futuristic sci-fi noir, Why Why Always, continuing at Abrons Arts Center’s Underground Theater through October 29. The prescient 1965 man vs. machine film starred Eddie Constantine as secret agent Lemmy Caution, who leaves the Outerlands and enters Alphaville posing as reporter Ivan Johnson in order to find out what happened to fellow agent Henry Dickson and to track down mysterious scientist Professor Von Braun. Irons and Petty reimagine the story using multiple monitors and cameras, live feeds and prerecorded scenes, overlapping dialogue, disembodied voices, mirrors and scrims, and more, in black-and-white and color. Longtime New York City Players member Jim Fletcher (Isolde, The Evening) stars as Caution, driving through darkness and moving through Alphaville in his trench coat, gun at the ready. Natacha (Elizabeth Carena), the professor’s daughter, is assigned to accompany him, making sure he doesn’t break any of Alpha 60’s rules, while a pair of seductresses (Laura Bartczak and Marion Spencer) hover around to take care of his more private needs. Wooster Group and Elevator Repair Service veteran Scott Shepherd (who currently can be seen in Measure for Measure at the Public) appears with Madeline Best on video, and Irons and Petty (Keep Your Electric Eye on Me, Standing By: Gatz Backstage) handle the technological aspects and live processing, including going onstage to reposition the cameras as necessary.
Meanwhile, Carena, Bartczak, and Spencer occasionally break out of character and engage in ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), slow, repetitive movements that have little to do with the plot but create both calm and stimulating atmospheres. Christina Campanella does the narration, with voiceovers by Olivier Conan and Irons, additional music by the Chocolate Factory’s Brian Rogers, costumes and props by Amy Mascena (clothing changes are made at front stage right, visible to some of the audience), complex sound design by Irons and Petty and implemented by Ian Douglas-Moore, and moody lighting courtesy of Jon Harper, referencing Raoul Coutard’s cinematography from the film. The production style of Why Why Always evokes such works as Reid and Sara Farrington’s Casablancabox and Big Dance Theater’s Comme Toujours Here I Stand, tech-heavy, complicated re-creations of Casablanca and Cléo from 5 to 7, respectively. What does it all mean? “That’s always how it is,” Caution says. “You never understand anything. And in the end, it kills you.” It won’t kill you, but it will keep you calmly stimulated and entertained throughout its ninety-minute running time.