Wooster Group, in the Raw: For a Production of Early O’Neill, Gone Are the Usual New Media and Fancy Effects

She is 67 now, so partnerships like this one with Mr. Maxwell raise the question of what will happen to the Group when she’s no longer its leader. What, in the end, is essential to the Wooster Group? A person? A place? A style?

“There are three ingredients in the Wooster Group that I can’t imagine it being without: Liz, Kate and the Performing Garage,” Mr. Fliakos said. Ms. Valk laughed when The Observer told her he’d said that. “The constant is Liz,” she said, adding, “But Liz is bigger than the person. She’s always way out in front thinking of the future.”

In her program note for the Hamlet production, Ms. LeCompte wrote that the Group was acting like an “archaeologist inferring a temple from a collection of ruins.” Similarly, Mr. Maxwell’s set for Early Plays is an apt metaphor for his relationship to the Wooster Group’s history. He is using the same heavily abstracted, flexible “ship deck” design that the Group has used for its other O’Neill productions, but it is adjusted: rotated 180 degrees from how it appeared in The Hairy Ape and stripped of the elaborate video, audio and props that created the claustrophobic, enigmatic world of The Emperor Jones.

It is the same, but different. “In some ways this isn’t that big of a leap,” Mr. Fliakos said of the production. “In every piece we’re forced to create a new visual language, a new sonic language, a new way of dealing with technology.”

Or, as it happens, a new way of not dealing with technology. After years of working with new media and sophisticated effects, at rehearsal last week Ms. Valk attempted to maneuver a small platform on wheels alongside the stage: a makeshift rowboat attempting to dock with the ship. The wheels got stuck; the actors giggled.

“This is what happens when the New York City Players try technology,” Mr. Fliakos shouted, and everyone laughed.


>> Hear Richard Maxwell’s “I Am Yours,” performed Jan. 24, 2012, the Wooster Group and the New York City Players.