September 11th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Jonanna Widner News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

TBA Diary: Public Space, Intimate Art

Photo by Kenneth Aaron

It's odd…much of the promotional literature and subsequent critical analysis surrounding Back to Back Theatre's small metal objects centers on the play as an exploration of the concept of “other.” Consider, from the TBA:09 catalogue:

[Back to Back Theatre] explores how respect is withheld from outsiders—the disabled or unemployed—who society deems “unproductive.” Since 1987, the ensemble, based in the small regional center at Geelong, Australia, has transformed the theater experience by exploring prejudices associated with the notion of “other.”

Obviously, since it is the Theatre's explicit mission to do this, small metal objects indeed explores the theme of existing as an outsider, someone “abnormal.” WW's Matthew Korfhage notes this (as well as weighing in on other bits and nicely summarizing the nuts and bolts of the play) in his earlier review .

But, under the steely sky that hung over Pioneer Square last night, you could feel something else going on. For one thing, unlike during the lunchtime performance Korfhage saw, the 6:30 Wednesday was sold out, and the headphone-baring audience sat hip-to-hip on the uncomfortable steps. For another, while much of the pedestrian traffic ignored the spectacle (how people could simply pretend to not see 150 people with giant headphones just sitting there, staring forward, is beyond me), there were plenty of people whose necks snapped back in classic double-take form, and plenty who stopped in their tracks and stayed there awhile. (My favorite moment: When an unknowing, dreadlocked young man, his giant, ragtag backpack sliding halfway down his back, strolled around the corner to face the crowd dead-on, and yelled, “holy fucking shit.”)

But the politics surrounding the crowd/passersby response is about form, specifically the formality of the play as it relates to the primary theme of “other.” The meat of the play—its dialogue, its characters, and its action—was about something different than the pain of exclusion. It was about love, friendship, and loneliness.

Those are not new themes, of course, but small metal objects handles them in a novel way. Although the plot of the play commands plenty of attention, the relationship between the two friends, Gary and Steve, proves equally compelling. Their talks are stilted and often brusque, stripped of flourish, revealing a rare kindness and kinship. Through his straightforward language, it's clear Steve is brutally sad, his depression born of both specific causes (e.g., his longing for a romantic partner) and vague—but no less real—existential ones. He hurts. It's that simple.

Gary's MO is simple too: He is loyal. Early on in the play, he notes that he would take a bullet for his family, without a second thought, and his matter-of-fact delivery of the statement is all the proof we need to believe him. Later on, it becomes clear that no amount of pressure, or money, or danger, would ever keep him from sticking by his buddy. All it takes to make this a truth is a few declarative sentences. As Korfhage alluded, the depiction of the pair's relationship is potentially gratuitous, of course, but the simplicity with which it is shared transforms it into a something deeply moving, and quietly—oh so quietly—new.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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