New Vaudevilles for Old

Willamette Week, November 4, 1998

By Steffen Silvis

“What we are celebrating is both buffoonery and a requiem mass.”
   —Hugo Ball on the Cabaret Voltaire

What’s exciting about Liminal’s productions is the heuristic approach the company takes where both the players and the audience learn through the troupe’s theatrical discoveries. Liminal realizes Tadeusz Kantor’s theory that art is the permanent motion and transformation of thoughts and ideas, and the company’s current production, Jowl Movements I-IX, is an astonishing stew of Kafka, Spinoza, Peter Handke, Inu Bisiriyu and Michael Taussig. But Liminal’s latest piece of synthetic theater depends mostly on the company’s study of Meyerhold’s theories and the New Vaudeville Movement, both of which were in turn syntheses of commedia dell’arte and kabuki. It’s a theater that is recognized for its belief that not everything can be expressed in text, that there are moments when dance, song and mime can best express a texture or a nuance of thought. Mordecai Gorelik declared that Meyerhold’s theatricalism provided “an acting platform onto which life is brought only through translation into stage values.”

Into a clay-colored, post-industrial loft comes a party of stock characters. An artist who’s the latest gallery-scene commodity, a paranoid businessman, a corrupt dealer in international finance and a spiritually hungry woman seeking healing through food swirl around their hedonic host. In our own anxious age of self and celebrity, these are the commedia personas whose only conviction is boredom. What follows is a mesmerizing collision of egos that begins with buffoonery and ends in a series of requiems.


Director Bryan Markovitz has constructed a highly original work that is realized by the impressive Liminal performers Jeff Marchant, Rich Southwick, Trent Moore (especially good as a depressive ventriloquist), Amanda Boekelheide, Christoph Saxe, Julie Burtis and Georgia Luce. Meyerhold believed that rhythm was the basis of all dramatic expression, and his works were bound by musical schemes. Liminal achieves a similar cohesiveness with original music by John Berendzen that riffs on themes by Karel Velky and Jelly Roll Morton.

As commodity theater continues to sink in impersonations of our intellectual impoverishment, companies like Liminal happily refuse to abandon enlightenment.

“As Jarry had done fleetingly in Ubu Roi, Meyerhold rejected the theater that counterfeited reality in favor of the theater as an event, a here-and-now happening aimed at shattering the audience’s composure.”

   —Edward Braun in Meyerhold: A Revolution in Theater