Degeneration X is a multimedia theatre production done well. The show’s opening night performance yesterday at The Living Theatre on the Lower East Side definitely lived up to my expectations.

Detailing the breakdown of one man’s nervous system over the course of a year or so, the production uses video, live theatre, and audio effects to create a very unique visual and auditory experience.

Interestingly enough, the main character suffers from a rare macular degeneration syndrome which causes him to slowly lose all vision. Xavier is a struggling artist in Brooklyn, lacking motivation, inspiration and direction in his life. He also struggles with a medical problem: over the past year he’s been experiencing frequent migraine and hallucinogenic episodes. His environs are blurry, he sees things that aren’t really there, and sometimes the people closest to him are not who they seem.

With the arrival of his estranged sister, a rough and hardcore new roommate, and an imaginary/hallucinatory girlfriend who allows him to escape the former two, Xavier begins to spin out of control and his syndrome worsens. He struggles to exist between two worlds, one real and one imaginary, while coping with the realities of his situation.

In some ways the production itself exists between two worlds as well: the scenes are split between live theatre performances and previously filmed video clips, two mediums creating one total experience.

Both are very well done and executed, and they reflect perfectly Xavier’s personal experiences. While some theatre and video scenes are entirely their own, similar to Xavier’s real and hallucinatory episodes, other scenes intermix the two, reflecting how Xavier’s two worlds become more and more blended as his condition worsens.

The video sequences are professionally shot and edited, clear from their high visual quality. The scenes represented by this medium were chosen very carefully, and they add a much better understanding to the story than live theatre scenes could provide. That is why this particular story was an excellent choice for this style of presentation: because live theatre or video scenes alone would not be sufficient to capture the desired mood and feelings evoked by the characters in this production.

While the production is defined by its excellent use of multimedia techniques, the innovation would still fall flat with bad actors on the stage. This is not the case with Degeneration X. The actors fill their roles perfectly and make the performance come alive with their wit, anger, and sentimentality. Some of the lines could be delivered with more nuance and/or emotion, but the majority of the performances seem both natural and compelling.

The opening night didn’t go without a few kinks in the system: a stage hand fell off stage while moving a piece of furniture, and once or twice the video screen began playing out of turn. This didn’t damper the production, but I hope things run more smoothly the next time around.

Degeneration X is a new and intriguing vision of one man’s illness, transformation, and self-discovery. The Living Theatre, Perf Productions, and everyone involved in this performance should be pleased to have such a successful and professional production under their name.

Degeneration X is running now through May 12.

– Karina Schroeder

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