By James Foritano
Cambridge, MA – If I seem a little out of breath, don’t worry; experimental theater does that to me. “Creatures,” staged by Boston Experimental Theatre (B.E.T.) at Pezhman Tavori’s recently opened Touch Art Gallery, worked its audience. Yours truly was obliged often to turn his neck and then his whole person to see actors who didn’t feel at all stage-bound, or even bound to a floor.
Jared Wright, creature, could be found, as often as not, dialoguing with his partner creature, Lorna Nogueira, while hanging upside down from scaffolding intended to display arts and crafts. Ms. Nogeira, not to be “up-staged,” would, as often as not, attach herself to the acrobatic Mr. Wright, in order, I assumed, to keep their dialogue up-close and personal. Atefeh Nouri’s bravura solo performance provided a fine coda to playwright, Mohammad Rezaee-Rad, based in Tehran, Iran.
All this jumping up and running around was unsettling, as it was meant to be to a staid Boston audience. I, for example, always run for the ‘best seat’ in the house i.e. center/forward. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that every seat, from time to time, was just as close up to the action as the one I nearly broke my neck to claim. Grudgingly my critical faculty admitted that these acrobatics, while denying me a front row spectacle, were relevant to the play’s dramatic intent.
These actors, although speaking in well-turned, if sometimes repetitive sentences, seemed as much to be the captors as the owners of their speech, which poured forth, disdaining a median, mostly in halting bursts or sudden fluency. Their postures and expressions, by turns urgent, cajoling, persuasive, spoke more, in fact, of possession than of the label ‘free speech’ by which we usually characterize audible thinking.
Vahdat Yeganeh, translator and director of “Creatures,” seems theatrically unsure of how ‘free’ spoken words and even the thoughts and feelings underlying them actually are. No wonder. Director Vahdat is channeling Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” and Jerzy Grotowski’s “Poor Theater” as well as juggling the responsibility of keeping open a dialogue between Boston and Tehran, the lineage of owner Pezhman Tavori and his Touch Art Gallery.
I don’t mind admitting that I would be speechless or, more likely, lumberingly silent under the weight of these responsibilities. I remember Boston tangling with this avant-garde sensibility only briefly in the 1970s, when rents were lower and sensibilities perhaps keener.
I imagine that sensibilities in Tehran are still as keen, or more, as they were here almost a half century ago, politics there having richly obliged, and am (somewhat) grateful for having my own sensibilities re-stirred.
True, I lost my ‘front row’ seat to an upside-down version of traditional stagecraft; true, also, that it isn’t always comfortable, let alone entertaining, to be a witness of dialogue that seems more possessing than possessed. But, on the upside, this compulsion/possession affect came across to this witness not as rigidly zombie-like but as spontaneously, even willfully, compulsive.
If paradox can come alive on the stage, being possessed doesn’t entirely clip one’s wings. Ms. Nogueira was a dervish of graceful energy as she swung from pillar to pole of Touch’s intimate venue; Mr. Wright seemed as eloquent hanging upside-down as any other well-versed actor on his feet. And, if as the saying goes, ‘the eyes have it’ they seemed both mesmerized and mesmerizing as they traded glances with their audience — as though wishing us, willing us to help them articulate a gripping message.
I appreciated also that in tandem with the more oracular parts of this play’s message, there were tantalizing hints of topicality peeping through. The vulnerability of being gazed upon by a stranger, even being recorded and analyzed body and soul, are familiar, if not entirely welcome feelings, not only to “Creature’s” actors but also to every citizen of the 21st century. Even if, as our own NSA would claim, its all in a good cause.
Tantalizing hints of topicality are, to this commentator, peeping through everywhere in Touch Gallery’s exhibitions and events. Perhaps there is the possibility of a dialogue sputtering to life, here, halfway between Harvard Yard and Fresh Pond — just downwind from Tehran. This week Touch Gallery is holding its Persian Film Festival, Photography Workshop, and a performance by Shooka Afshar.
(“Creatures” has completed its run; for information on upcoming exhibitions, performances and special events at Touch Gallery, 281 Concord Ave., Cambridge, Mass., visit http://www.touchag.com or call (617) 547-0017.