In the program notes for The Possessions of La Boîte, director Charmian Creagle says the show "is an homage to an art form—the letter—and the power it possesses." It's an assertion that prompts misgivings. With all the hand-wringing about the decline of meaningful correspondence, it's far too easy to romanticize the postman and to accord the notes that arrive in stamped envelopes an unwarrantably mystical significance.
Fortunately, the show skirts both schmaltziness and esoteric hoo-ha. It's the first effort of the Reformers, a new troupe made up of several members of Defunkt Theatre (Creagle and husband, Sean Doran, helped found that company) and other local performers. In The Possessions, the Reformers eschew traditional narrative in favor of fragmentation and repetition of language, movement and sound. They crafted the piece out of hundreds of letters Creagle inherited after her mother's death, drawing all the dialogue from this correspondence. It opens with Adrienne Flagg, in prim gloves and cat-eye glasses, voicing a mother's letters. As she speaks with methodical severity about flower arrangements, canned food, appetite-killing pills and the importance of reading, the four other ensemble members pantomime the activities. A sharp sound—a clacking typewriter, a snapped bedsheet—sometimes interrupts, and illegible epistles are projected onto performers' torsos.
As the show unfolds, performers move through roles. Jennifer Elkington plays a girl unable to live up to her mother's demands. Later, the ensemble portrays schoolkids weathering puppy love and rejection. They pass notes through the audience, giggle over origami fortune-tellers and toss paper airplanes while reciting lines that sting with adolescent anxiety. This bit is far more engaging than the show's cumbersome midsection, in which the ensemble performs robotic movements while repeating certain lines. Striving for profundity, the dronelike echoes become empty wisps of language. "It makes me terrifically sad that we didn't make us the priority in life," Flagg says. "This I believe is your way of keeping score," Doran repeats. They're lines about how we relate to one another, but there's no reason to invest: Other vignettes are grounded in character, but this segment gives the audience little to latch on to.
Punctuated by bits of found video and piercing sound, The Possessions can feel patchy. Where Hand2Mouth's workshopped projects pulse with frenzied vigor, The Possessions is more contained, though occasionally sleepy. It might not prompt any rapturous letters home, but I'm not returning it to sender either.
SEE IT: The Possessions of La BoÃ®te is at Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St. 8 pm Fridays-Sundays through April 21. $15-$20.