It’s an Earthquake in My Heart, Goat Island Performance Group, at the Athenaeum Theatre, through June 8. Goat Island has always struggled to give its spoken texts as much impact as its nonverbal imagery given the power of its harrowing but lyrical physicality, especially in enigmatic quotidian routines repeated to the point of near collapse. In their newest piece, which marks their debut as Performing Arts Chicago’s resident ensemble, they make a radical departure and give the spoken word nearly complete dominion over the first 50 minutes of a 95-minute piece. Physical activity in the first half is generally confined to walking, standing, or waving, but the words flow from all directions: defensive driving tips, reminiscences of rainfall in childhood, musings on carpentry and meteorology, role-playing scripts for people trying to conquer fear.
As intriguing as some of these texts may be, when rigorous movement suddenly erupts at minute 51, the relief is palpable. After so many fragmentary readings that invite but defy decoding, sustained nonverbal images of bodies twisting through urgent, nonsensical contortions seem complete in themselves. But while much of the ensuing imagery is as playful and poignant as any in the group’s rich 15-year history–performers running at full tilt with huge blocks of wood strapped to their feet is pure Pina Bausch-esque sublimity–they never quite jell into a coherent whole.