Laurie Anderson is a master at engineering moods and atmosphere. In her one-woman show, “Delusion,” she uses dim lighting and a touch of hovering fog. Video is projected onto both flat and three-dimensional surfaces. She plays both low, rumbling electronica, and hauntingly sweetl melodies on an electric violin, which seems to emit three voices at once. Sometimes she speaks into a voice-distorting microphone, making her sound like a demon or an ogre. Always, she speaks with a slow, deliberate cadence. Savoring the texture of each word she snaps her t’s and d’s and hisses her sibilants and cocks her head to the side during long pauses for further emphasis. The sum of all of these effects is foreboding, anxiety, awe and wonder.
At Anderson’s best, her atmospherics can woo one’s heart and mind to go exploring. At her worst, they feel like form striving to compensate for flimsier content. The performance is made up of stitched together bits, like a dramatic version of stand-up comedy. It has many peaks and valleys.
The character Anderson creates is a wry mistress of ceremonies in formal, masculine attire. Referring to notes in a binder, she speaks directly to her audience but seldom acknowledges the reactions she receives. She moves fluidly between stories and subjects, often clanging out distorted sounds on a keyboard to accompany her speech. Both her delivery and her sound reminded me of Tom Waits in his Kurt Weill mode.
Anderson’s bits are often both intensely personal and purposefully ambiguous. She shares some emotionally complicated episodes surrounding the death of her mother. She describes some poignant dreams. She relates mediations about moon exploration, ranging from the whimsical to the political, as gray dust and craters fill her stage. She sketches travelogues, and allows herself planned tangents on language and gender roles.
Following Anderson on her journeys requires patience and an open mind. They are full of surprises, of stimulating sights and sounds and some delicious twists and details, but they unfold in an atmosphere of unrelenting intensity and there are few signposts to keep you on her trail.
“Delusion” plays at ArtsEmerson‘s Paramount Mainstage, through October 2.