Right from the beginning, it's clear Savage/Love requires you to entirely suspend your disbelief.
Seven actors dramatically pose at the front of the stage and then begin to wordlessly hustle around the set. Eventually, ensemble actor Haden Cadiz breaks free from that animatronic state and recites a love poem to actor Anashkusha Beauchamp, who remains partially in the dream world—she stares blankly into the audience, and doesn't make eye contact with Cadiz.
A one-act oddity from playwright Sam Shepard's mammoth body of work, Savage/Love is 19 staged love poems written by Shepard and Joseph Chaikin. The script doesn't allude to setting, and there's no dialogue, which means directors can flesh it out however they want. In Imago's case, through interpretive dance.
The result is an engrossing, experiential piece of contemporary theater that's more dance show than traditional play. In a red set that's simultaneously kitchen, living room and bedroom, the cast moves in intricate, seemingly random patterns to everything from horror-movie scores, schmaltzy '60s pop and jazz noir. The actors take turns reciting each poem, allowing them briefly to come to life as an unnamed character while the rest of the cast remains in a dazed, disoriented state and collectively evokes the poem's narrative through the choreography.
What keeps Savage/Love from drowning in its own artsiness is a transcendent sense of irony: The play is pure mood, so it's up to the viewer to find any particular moment funny, relatable, melodramatic, ridiculous or moving.
Plus, even though it's highly abstract, the play is full of recognizable human experiences. In "The Hunt," Emily Welsh awkwardly stands alone under the light of a disco ball. "I've lost 15 pounds for you," she says. "I've dyed my hair brown for you. I've designed a special smile for you. But I haven't met you yet."
Between stanzas, the stage is overtaken by the other cast members, who dance around Welsh, turning the scene into some kind of melancholy sock hop. It's almost goofy, but it's hard not to be drawn in by Welsh's vulnerability. By this point in the play, silliness and sincerity don't seem contradictory.
SEE IT: Savage/Love plays at Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave., imagotheatre.com. 7:30 pm Friday, March 3 and 10. $5-$15 pay what you will.