The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, T.U.T.A. Theatre Company, at National Pastime Theater. Playwright Peter Handke hit the scene in 1966 with Offending the Audience, which deconstructed the whole idea of stage illusion. His best-known work, though, is probably the gentler Wings of Desire, whose bittersweet brand of continental romanticism also suffuses this piece, directed here by Bosnian expat Zeljko Djukic. Wordless and kaleidoscopic (“Nine actors. Two hundred characters. One town square”), it represents the apotheosis of Handke’s mistrust of language as well as his most extreme fragmentation of narrative. Its appeal is hence largely nonintellectual, a matter of warmth, rhythm, and archetype, and on these terms the limber, physically talented cast dazzle.

Still, before long the hour-plus Hour gets pretty boring. A blizzard of IDs is required: Look, a clown! Look, a chase! Look, a guy with a tree! Say, is that Papageno? Hey, she’s pregnant! Wait, is that the tree guy again? But our perceptions never move much beyond recognition, so we see a collection of disconnected gestures rather than scenes and characters. Frankly this play may be unperformable: mutely and cursorily differentiating so many roles seems either impossible or a task for an ensemble of Oliviers. Meanwhile Handke’s humanistic kitchen-sink approach–throwing together love, hate, death, birth, Charlie Chaplin, etc–risks merely replicating the chaos of existence. If people watching is your bag, that may be enough; personally I look forward to the meatier, more aggressive material for which this company–a transplant from Washington, D.C.–is known.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jason Holmes.