Theater Grottesco: The Moment of YES! Santa Fe Playhouse, May 22
Now in its 32nd year, Theater Grottesco sprung from the loins of L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris and has been based in Santa Fe since 1996. Lecoq’s vision of theater emerged from the physically precise but expressively neutral movements of athletics and grew to embrace mime, masking, and clown craft as elements of new possibilities for dramatic presentation. The approach proved influential in shaping modern stagework, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s, serving as a launching ground for such notables as director Julie Taymor, actor Geoffrey Rush, playwright Yasmina Reza, Théâtre du Soleil founder Ariane Mnouchkine, and Théâtre de Complicité co-founder Simon McBurney.
As that list suggests, Lecoq’s ideals can lead in various directions, but Theater Grottesco co-founder John Flax tends to keep things pretty pure. The group’s current production, The Moment of YES!, inhabits territory familiar to anyone who has followed the company over the years. A cast of four adept and well-matched performers — Apollo Garcia, Tara Khozein, Eric Kupers, and Danielle Reddick — play out a series of vignettes, sometimes all together but occasionally in smaller groupings. Flax and Kent Kirkpatrick are identified as the directors, and everybody who touched the piece gets a program credit as writer and choreographer. It is, obviously, a deeply collaborative work, and it is said to include a degree of improvisation, although it seemed from the opening performance that at least the bones of the work and the import of its constituent sections were firmly pre-ordained.
The piece makes use of some spoken text, a lot of choreographed movement, and touches of physical comedy. The set is limited to an essentially empty space in which props can be easily brought in and removed. A taupe back panel is emblazoned with the words “In the Beginning.” During the course of the performance, chalk inscriptions are added that refer to creativity and society.
The show’s central topic is the creation of common culture among people. This is explored especially through group banter about shared memories of childhood, when the characters presumably operated more as a group than as individuals. These sections tend to be weakly written — juvenile treatments of banal recollections of family or playmate adventures. A secondary theme involves the way that the circumstances of a moment can change the course of one’s life. This leads to a point of wistful wishing that we might reshape a past decision, but that is not explored deeply before it is dismissed: “We can’t go backwards. A play can’t go backwards.” There is a musical interlude. The episodes move from childhood bonding to scenes in which too much togetherness becomes not a good thing for adults: two men dancing dangerously on a chair that can scarcely accommodate both, a tale of sexual assault evaded when someone imposes a “safe space” around the threatened woman. A skit of two women trying on clothes of differing styles extols the benefits of open-mindedness in shared encounters. An audience singalong of “The Star-Spangled Banner” demonstrates current “shared culture.” The printed program says the play lasts approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission. On opening night, it took about 85, and it ran out of steam at the end with the extended re-creation of a game in which the actors lobbed a cardboard box onto a pole while pelting one another with ball-shaped props that I think signified cabbages.
Theater Grottesco’s “The Moment of YES!” continues at the Santa Fe Playhouse (142 E. De Vargas St.) Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 7. For tickets ($25, discounts available), visit www.theatergrottesco.org or call 505-474-8400 for reservations.