Long before immersive, interactive environmental theater became a mainstay of Off-Broadway theater (as exemplified by the success of the funhouse-style “Sleep No More” and newer hits like “Here Lies Love” and “Queen of the Night”), De La Guarda, a theatrical troupe from Argentina, brought aerial circus stunts to the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square, turning what might be considered avant-garde performance art into a tourist-friendly hit.
They offer a micro-sized Cirque du Soleil where audience members stand around as if in a crowded dance club and observe wordless, dreamlike physical feats.
Their first show, titled simply “De La Guarda,” ran from 1998 to 2004. A few years later, the company returned with “Fuerza Bruta” (meaning “brute force”), a similar hour-long spectacle offering more techno music and new sights and tricks including a see-through plastic pool, in which performers are swimming around, that falls from above onto the spectators, allowing them to even touch it.
There is also a guy in a suit who runs furiously on treadmill, crashes into walls and gets shot. What’s the meaning behind it? Man versus his surroundings? Your guess is as good as mine.
After shutting down in January, the group is now presenting “Wayra,” which is essentially a revamped “Fuerza Bruta” that runs 20 minutes longer. While the centerpieces of “Fuerza Bruta” all remain (including the aquatic splendor and wind machines), “Wayra” also includes drummers and singers, aerialists swinging from above and a beehive-like bubble that hovers over the crowd.
For those who already saw “De La Guarda” or “Fuerza Bruta,” your reaction to “Wayra” will reaction will probably the same. Some people eat up this kind of non-narrative, aggressive theater and many others find it confusing and pointless.
To be frank, I fall into the second category. It may be theater but it’s certainly not drama. At least “Here Lies Love” is a character-driven musical and “Sleep No More” is loosely based on “Macbeth.” And at $99 a ticket, “Wayra” is shockingly overpriced.
For those taking this all in for the first time, my advice would be to stay as open as possible to this brand of loud, energetic, purposely cryptic sensory experience. Oh and keep in mind that you may get wet or at least covered in confetti.
If you go: “Wayra” plays an open run at the Daryl Roth Theatre. 20 Union Square East, fuerzabrutanyc.com.