With “The Artist” scooping an Academy Award for Best Picture Sunday, silent entertainment is all the rage in American performance art these days. “Guests,” Production Workshop’s newest production, follows that trend. The show, described as a “devised movement piece” designed through collaboration between the performers and director, runs from March 2 through March 5 at T.F. Green Hall.
Entering the PW Downspace, performers ask the audience to “take a vow of silence with us.” By sacrificing spoken language, the performance becomes all about body language.
“The body is a site of pleasure in more ways than just the sexual way,” said Ari Rodriguez ’13, the show’s director. “It has a kind of expression that is as unbounded as natural language.”
For the next hour and 10 minutes, the audience watches the actors explore their bodies and discover the different meanings they create through movement. The seven actors create an arsenal of seven gestures, which are repeated over and over and are used to communicate the relationships and narratives of the piece.
“For me, one of the first big tenets of the show is that performing and dance and social etiquette are one in the same,” Rodriguez said.
While this message is certainly communicated, it is the visual beauty of the show that leaves a lasting impression. The actors contort their bodies to create spectacular poses in front of an ornately designed set complete with a tree chandelier. The lights, subtle yet meticulous, enhance the beauty of the show’s overall image.
“A lot of this show is just about ‘aren’t images pretty?'” Rodriguez said. “What if we took it slower and we just said, ‘Sit with this image for a while.'”
While visually stunning, the show intentionally lacks narrative depth. Never formally acting, the actors play with each other, dance — to music and without it — and sometimes just stand still. The constant repetition of their seven gestures eventually seems redundant, and the energy of the performance starts to drag. At times, a single movement is repeated for minutes on end.
But the most intriguing aspect of the show is the connection between the actors. To convincingly communicate in such an unconventional manner, there has to be a level of trust that persists throughout the performance.
“I think it all boils down to honesty,” said actor Chris Fitzsimmons ‘13.5. “You just have to trust (the process), trust yourself and just put a lot of faith in the audience.”
By the end of the show, the actors are left completely exposed, figuratively and literally baring all to their audience. This gutsy conclusion will surely, and unfortunately, define the performance.
When asked about creating an original piece, Fitzsimmons reiterated the need for sincerity.
“(With) this kind of process you have to be so honest with yourself and so honest with everyone else that you’re working with to be able to create something from scratch,” he said.
“We made it up,” Rodriguez said. “We were just following the fun. Mostly we’d come in every day and say, ‘What would be fun to do?’ within the confines of some of the ideas we had.”
Unapologetically pretentious, “Guests” is part Charlie Chaplin film and part avant-garde theater experiment, but ultimately riveting to watch.
“It’s just so fun to watch how things that are really, really simple are still incredible to watch just because you’ve never seen them before,” Rodriguez said.