Say what you will about Mr. Fish. He definitely knows how to get under your skin, even if that means getting on your nerves as well.
His “White Noise” would seem to be partly inspired by Samuel Beckett’s great monologue “Not I,” in which a disembodied mouth delivers a lifetime-spanning roster of contradictory impressions before being subsumed into darkness. Like Beckett’s unnamed speaker, Mr. McKenzie’s character floats above the stage, looking both untethered and trapped.
He has the advantage, though, of being able to use his entire body, even if he can’t escape from that suspended hole, which resonantly brings to mind both womb and tomb. (Andrew Leiberman did the set, lighted to chill by Stacey Derosier.) And he isn’t altogether alone either.
Glowing, gigantic images of fresh-faced adolescents appear on the screen that surrounds him. (Jim Findlay is the excellent video designer.) Sometimes the children echo what he says, but in German. This is presumably partly because Mr. Fish’s “White Noise” had its debut in Freiburg, Germany.
The nationality of the young people — underscored by their sometimes appearing in lederhosen — also echoes the fixation of the novel’s protagonist on Adolf Hitler. And, yes, there is footage of Nazi rallies shown during this production as well, juxtaposed via split screen with a late-career Elvis Presley performing “Unchained Melody.”
More important, though, these young, unblemished faces become the source of the show’s most powerful moments, in ways that capture an abiding current of horror in the novel. The book’s narrator is a father. He and his wife find the wonder-struck, in-the-moment existence of their youngest child, a toddler, to be a source of profound comfort.
And throughout, there’s an implicit dread of childhood’s vitality and purity (I’m not sure innocence is the word) being polluted. Correspondingly, at a certain point in Mr. Fish’s production, the faces we have seen earlier show up increasingly bruised and bloodied.