Wordless Play Stages A Movement Collage
The Oregonian, April 13, 2000
By Richard Wattenberg
We speak and write using words that we hope will convey our message to whoever it is that we address. We hope that language will carry our ideas, our sense of ourselves and of the world without distorting what we seek to say. Like a number of current philosophers, theorists and artists, Peter Handke has devoted much of his work as playwright and novelist to calling attention to the problematic nature of the assumptions that underlie this faith. In his best-known plays, “Offending the Audience,” “Kaspar” and “The Ride Across Lake Constance,” Handke continually undermines our naive trust in the way language functions in the theater and in life; however, in his recent piece “The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other,” Handke does without spoken language altogether.
As presented by the Liminal Performance Group, “The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other,” directed and arranged by Bryan Markovitz, is a movement piece that uses slide projections and an evocative sound design to create a feel for contemporary life. Resisting the containment of language, the performance has both humorous and disturbing moments. The audience surrounds the tiny acting space and is separated from the performers by scrim curtains, through which the viewers can easily see the movement collage that is staged by seven actors and on which a number of suggestive images are projected. During the 55-minute performance, the actors—each uniformly costumed in off-white pants and salmon-colored T-shirt—come and go, hopping, crawling, hobbling, fighting and marching through the acting area.
Given the nature of the title, one is surprised at how much interaction and contact occurs between actors. The performers often seem to be hard at work—pulling, tugging, digging at the floor, ceiling, “walls” and one another. We may not know exactly what they are doing or why, but their movements have a muscular concreteness that keeps us reasonably engaged.
Most powerful is the movement of Amanda Boekelheide, who also functions as the production’s movement director. In playful face-offs with Jeff Marchant or in her stiff-backed way of being carried off the stage as if on a stretcher or in descending four to six feet down the backs of her fellow performers, she created some of the piece’s most riveting images. Although many of the projected slide images represent somewhat desolate urban scenes and John Berendzen’s accompanying sound score evokes a sense of metallic machinery and busy city streets, the meaning of the piece as a whole is not immediately clear. In the spirit of Handke’s early plays, the concern here may be less on actually representing something to the audience than on awakening audience members to the ways in which they process perceptions—a process that is presented somewhat satirically during the play’s last moments when one of the performers rises with vigor while struggling to formulate some idea, some thought, only to lose it, and to slip back to his former position. The event as a whole is intriguing, but certainly not everybody’s chosen bill of fare.