Com­mon ground

Pasatiempo - - PASA REVIEWS - — James M. Keller

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.the­ater­ or call 505-474-8400 for reser­va­tions.

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