Theater review by Helen Shaw. Abrons Arts Center (see the Off-Off List). Written and directed by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone. With ensemble cast. 1hr 10mins. No intermission.
Experimental director-playwright Richard Maxwell (statesman of the deadpan performance) has described the theater as a place that allows an audience to stare—really stare—at other people’s entire bodies. Only the theater—notes Maxwell—sanctions extended, full-body voyeurism. Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, clever young codirectors of the warmhearted Everyone Was Chanting Your Name, take this museum-of-living-objects attitude literally, seating their audience along gallery-white walls and posing performers in a series of sculptural groupings. Some are actors, some not, but all sustain our steady contemplation. There is trouble, though, and it lies in that old bugbear of live art: duration.
Name is a profoundly humanist exercise; the conversational text paints a pointillistic picture of the diverse company, so we learn who drinks coffee and whose spouse has died. Yet while there’s immense confidence in the work’s texture, it remains a difficult 70 minutes. An exquisite beginning introduces us to the diverse company one at a time. Youngster Sara Ishimura tap-dances; gray-haired Joseph Rosta warbles a Sting song off-key; self-possessed middle-schooler Stayna Alexandre reminds us that we will never know if she is wearing a costume or her clothes. But as the piece progresses, we lose this tension between showmanship and meditation, and a project designed to fascinate us with our fellow man lets dullness intrude. We find ourselves tempted to look away—but perhaps this is Browde and Silverstone’s intention? Certainly I came away knowing the faces of my fellow audience members almost as well as the ones onstage.—Helen Shaw