An almost wordless, oddly fascinating show from a prizewinning troupe
New York — Goodnight Ladies! Dramatic piece by the Hesitate and Demonstrate company. ''Fen'' has been joined by ''Goodnight Ladies!'' as the New York Shakespeare Festival continues to participate in the Britain Salutes New York celebration. The approximately one-hour entertainment, playing through June 19 at Public/Martinson Hall, is an almost wordless experimental piece by a prize-winning British troupe that calls itself Hesitate and Demonstrate. An entertainment in which sound effects, music, and lighting are more than embellishments to the mimed action, ''Goodnight Ladies!'' implies more than it explicates.
The spectator is introduced into the mysteries of the evening by a program note that reads as follows: ''Emigres, haunted by shadows from their past, drift through unknown capitals of Europe. Sleepless nights in strange hotels, days spent waiting for news in pavement cafes. Is she being observed, or is it imagination? A woman moves toward her ultimate destination like a moth toward a flame.''
In the course of carrying out this ominous scenario, actress Lizza Aiken endures a series of ordeals and adventures that seem to derive partly from Kafka-esque nightmares and partly from old-fashioned movie thrillers. There are long train journeys (a la Hitchcock) and splendid train sound effects. There is a touch of the zither, recalling Harry Lime and the theme of ''The Third Man.'' All sorts of other fragmentary, carefully staged effects involve the heroine with (presumably) her lover (Alex Mavro) and a couple of sinister gents who may be government agents, crooked fences, or just plain nasties (all played by Andrzej Borkowski and Rick Fisher).
In its oddly fascinating way, ''Goodnight Ladies!'' holds the attention, thanks to the deliberate and spooky performance staged by artistic director Geraldine Pilgrim. Although having to perform with almost no dialogue, the actors creditably suggest the tense underworld of terror and desperation occupied by the pursued and their pursuers.
As in the case of ''Fen,'' Tom Donnellan's lighting of a cleverly designed set contributes its share of surprise effects, silhouettes, and sometimes blinding illumination. John Darling's sound tape is a tone poem of train whistles, clickety-clacks, screeching gulls, port noises, and other stereophonically amplified noises. The recorded score ranges from 18th-century Albinoni to 20th-century Ellington blues.
In common with many abstract and impressionistic works of this kind, the piece devised by Hesitate and Demonstrate intrigues without ever fully satisfying. It catches the eye and stimulates the imagination, but never quite touches the heart. It is a cartoon for a play. Perhaps Hesitate and Demonstrate could use a writer.