HARDHEAD FLAIR: IN SO MANY WORDS, PART TWO
Quite properly, Whitehead stated that even perfection will not bear the tedium of indefinite repetition. –Walter Abish, “In So Many Words,” from In the Future Perfect
I once taught a child–one of my favorite students–who was diagnosed as mentally retarded. Unaware of the diagnosis, I had described her to one of the school counselors as unable to grasp social subtleties but able to plunge effortlessly and imaginatively into all her art projects. Once given a little guidance nothing ever stopped her, and she worked arduously until the end of the period, deep in her world, making beautiful things. None of her “intact” classmates matched her ability to create intense colors. So what if she colored her hair green in a portrait of herself as a mermaid? One wondered why the world needed to be made clear if she was able to make such beautiful sense of it in drawings. But though she was creating beautiful things, she was not understanding everything–neither the nuances of what her classmates said to one another and to her nor the nuances of the rest of the world.
Doorika reminds me in some ways of that little girl. Oblivious to the style and nuances of other theater companies and performance artists, which struggle to make themselves understood using conventional language, choreography, and movement, they create beautiful works of art, apparently satisfied to be in their own world, concentrating on what they choose to do. Those choices have positioned them squarely at the intersection of experimental theater, performance art, and dance.
Doorika’s Hardhead Flair: In So Many Words, Part Two, based on Walter Abish’s short story in the collection In the Future Perfect, is tighter and more cohesive than their first performance based on the same story, The Most of Shave: In So Many Words, Part One. The performances seem more focused, action is more specific; but much of the earlier show is repeated here: Doorika’s method, the characters, the situation, the set pieces (though the plant is dead now). And there’s still something highly essential missing–namely Abish’s text, which would have cleared up much of the confusion about what in hell is really happening. The text might have been revealed in a variety of conventional and unconventional ways. The actors might actually have spoken it–in English, not Chicago-style French, as they did toward the end of this performance. They might have spoken it plainly and clearly so that the audience could actually hear and understand it. Or, if the impetus is really action and not speech, the text might have been recorded in voice-overs, or projected via videotape, film, or slides, or written on moving sets, on the floor, on cards carried by the actors, on the back wall–whatever. Why leave out what seems to be the most important aspect of Abish’s story: his words?
The set is beautiful (huge flowers painted on backdrops), the staging and action are tight and focused, and this time around Doorika does a sort of condensed version of the first installment, “Prologue–Part One Revisited The Most of Shave.” The action is still locked in the 1970s, and still occurs in a beautifully appointed apartment. This time there are two men instead of three–Casey Spooner and Jim Skish–and the same three female characters, played by Amy Kerwin, Lisa Perry, and Marianne Potje.
There’s nothing wrong with abstraction, symbol, or metaphor, but there is something almost snobbish about choosing an obscure, eccentric text and expecting an audience to make sense of it without hearing it or seeing it. Here the art has grown out of its source, made a twist toward the light, then plummeted down into darkness again. To their credit, in the program Doorika state, “As a group, we have catalogued the alphabetized clusters of words which Abish uses to introduce each of the paragraphs of his story. Extracting the seemingly random selection of words which Abish excluded from the narrative body of the text revealed a subtext which is at the core of Doorika’s interpretation.” But a description of their method and intent doesn’t remedy the difficulty.
The little girl, my student, would have liked to be understood; her lifetime struggle will be to fit into a world that does not see her as “intact.” It’s pitiable that Doorika has every opportunity to make clear Abish’s text (which, however obscure, is comprehensible–and beautiful) yet purposely obfuscates it, choosing not to be understood.