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The Panel, the first part of DNA Theatre’s year-long AIDS project, offers the kind of controlled and repetitious pandemonium that’s a trademark of director Hillar Liitoja. Here, though, there’s more polish than in the past, a sense of organization in the apparently random world that incorporates text, performance and even audience seating.
The work’s centre is a panel discussion about various AIDS issues, involving 7 panelists, a moderator (the deadpan Matthew Scott), a looming and unpredictable judge (Liitoja) and audience response. Within a highly structured framework, alternate views are tossed back and forth, sometimes simultaneously. Meanwhile, in a corner, a holistic healer (Rosalia Martini) calls out the ingredients of a potion she’s mixing, and tells a choppy narrative.
The composite text (classical sources, newspaper clippings, medical comments on AIDS) and music (tango, Judy Garland, big-band sounds, 19th-century romanticism) is an intentional blur; the bulk of the evening comes across like a game show on heavy drugs. The juxtapositions are sometimes humorous and, surprisingly, they occasionally touch the emotions.
The show could be shorter and have the same effect, but The Panel has its own brand of attention-holding theatricality.