Great Hymn of Thanksgiving/Conversation Storm
Thu Feb 12 2009
Photograph: Ryan Schrock
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
This is how a downtown outing ought to be. You tiptoe gingerly along a horrible linoleum hallway. You count fellow theatergoers, exhaling in relief when the audience outnumbers the cast. You eye an unprepossessing stage full of zero-budget detritus. And then you have your socks blown off. The Nonsense Company, a trio of musician-actors out of Madison, Wisconsin, serves up a delicious two-course evening—a concerto for everyday objects followed neatly by a meaty one-act about torture. Like the very best meals, the two dishes complement one another; after hearing what composer Rick Burkhardt can make from singing wineglasses and a scraping fork, we feel better prepared for the exquisite musicality of his text.
Our starter, the percussion piece Great Hymn of Thanksgiving, revels in the relationships between sounds. Sonic effects without meaning (a tantrum of fists on a tabletop) and others full of significance (prose fragments) begin to trade places, so that clanks sound like words and words sound like noise. Performers Burkhardt, Andy Gricevich and Ryan Higgins play drolly and precisely, and their manner stays arch as they segue into Conversation Storm. In this more conventional “play,” three men have a strange, shifting argument about waterboarding. Hymn has taught us to listen to the conversation in several keys, and the virtuosic performers play them all—the troubling bassline of violence, the abrasive tenor of self-righteousness, and, every now and then, the clear, bright treble of a really funny joke.—Helen Shaw