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Good Grief

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The following review is courtesy of Nor Hall, Minneapolis-based psychotherapist and writer for non-text based theater: It was a pretty seamless experience going from dinner at 20.21 to the performance, seeing the stage (where there appeared to be a cocktail party going on) to watching the film, and out again to the Walker parking lot […]

The following review is courtesy of Nor Hall, Minneapolis-based psychotherapist and writer for non-text based theater:

It was a pretty seamless experience going from dinner at 20.21 to the performance, seeing the stage (where there appeared to be a cocktail party going on) to watching the film, and out again to the Walker parking lot and on to the road. I looked in the mirror at the intersection of Hennepin and Groveland and saw Sally in the car behind me–not seeing me– and it felt exactly as if we were still part of the performance. I thought: Oh dear God, please don’t get into an accident.

I think that means that Kommer (“ grief”) worked. Their amplified awkwardness at a pseudo cocktail party wake in the beginning was charming and funny and so familiar that we all (at least everyone in my section of McGuire theater) seemed roped in to the clichés with great sympathy and hilarity. Whatever can you say when some beloved person dies? I remember finding a cache of letters in my mother’s files– letters written to the family when her mother had died. One letter struck me as perfect. That person knew exactly what to say. I meant to copy it down and didn’t and still think about it every time someone dies and I feel the ridiculous inadequacy of condolences. I thought of it again tonight listening to the resigned speeches: ‘”Life goes on” “ How are you feeling” “ Would you like to get some fresh air” while the six actor/persons absent-mindedly dig in the dirt of hip high planters and tear apart the dying foliage. It made me think of the ancient spring propitiation ceremony of the Gardens of Adonis –especially as the long blonde Ton dug into the peat with his phallic stick– where small potted gardens were tossed into the river to come up somewhere downstream dead or alive. They– all six actors– were tossed out onto such a stream of life especially after the first half (staged) performance when they went “ backstage” on film–( a screen descended majestically– deus ex etc.–right in the middle of the set) and we saw them get into the gear of their nightly personas. Most of them came up dead. Ton, for example, back in his barren student’s room adorned with a vase of dead roses, sitting on his single bed and opening a drawer full of disgusting snack foods that he ate with a compulsive lack of pleasure. (The same guy with the stick. His last scene was a sort of whipped cream climax with a can that was grossly funny and very sad.)

The choreography got my attention. In the first scene when the people start to fall away one by one from their own attempts to be normal’, they decompose gesturally and proceed to meld slowly into the far back black wall with one hand raised. Sort of an hieratic gesture– but of helplessness. Then they go off stage right and stand quietly with heads bowed. I’m not sure I caught all of them in the act but it seemed ritualistic– almost as if they could be lighting candles. There were no candles. There was bread and water (and the dead plants) and plastic chairs and a boom box blaring Oh Danny Boy. ( The music was over the top sentimental, ironic and evocative: John Lennon singing Imagine All the People in the middle and then Let the Sunshine In at the end. No one could agree on what they wanted to hear.) Kassys adopted their piece beautifully to the new stage– using exit doors and back hallways to great effect, splicing their moves to the film.

A word about “ technical difficulties.” It’s gotten hard, post-Daylight (Sarah Michelson), to know whether technical difficulties are part of the act. My seat mates and I were divided on this one. Was it real when the staff announced technical difficulties at the beginning of the film section– or was it an intentional glitch that set the audience into “ search” mode along with the equipment? When an entire audience asks that question aloud directors need take note because the element of surprise is certainly gone. (It probably was not intentional.)

Roger, my immediate seat mate, commented appreciatively that “ it was so Dutch” which I’ve been thinking about. It’s the kind of comment we would elaborate with each other but not in public because it’s potentially incorrect.’ But the quirky, dry humor and the reserve and the height and the bicycles are all there… Also one night about twenty years ago we were north of Amsterdam wandering around in a small town and walked into a gathering in a theater for someone named Eric who was turning 40. He was the director and had transformed the theater into a party space which we didn’t know. We sat on the risers with a lot of dressed up people and discovered we were part of a party going on right now. I liked the inclusiveness of that night/this night’s event. It induces a kind of meta-awareness: making you aware of yourself as another one of All the Lonely People, yet grateful for the fact that you’re not alone.