Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Enjoy the Silence

By Ed Malin

This Is Normal is Matthew Freeman’s contribution to This Is Not Normal: An Arts and Activism Festival at The Brick Theater.  Freeman is a tireless innovator, so perhaps I wasn’t surprised when the festival program described this work as “an opportunity for silent observation of real people in a real place in real time. It is a no-media environment and it’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Context.)”  And then I entered the theater and noticed on the program “This Is Normal a play”.
The descriptions are all correct, and the event is beautiful.  What follows are only my observations. I saw the show after the Mac Rogers-Rebecca Comtois double-hander God of Obsidian, the context of which is hard to abandon. Given the theme of the festival and the preponderance of xenophobic rhetoric in the brain of one man who lives in a nice house in Washington D.C., I give Freeman credit for putting a diverse group of people on stage.  Diversity is normal.  Women seem to be leading the resistance, both in "Star Wars" and in the U.S.A. Here in New York, public schools are closed for the Eid holiday for the first time ever.  It would be great to remind the world that difference is normal, and that confronting people with people is the real way for us to get to know each other.
photo courtesy of The Brick
Acting is not normal.  This is something that the show’s narrator, David DelGrosso, knows a lot about and that I am sure most spectators forget.  The only words in the piece were the introductory blurbs about each performer, read off of note cards.  Then, the five performers did what they would normally do.  What would I do?  Maybe turn my back in terror? Perhaps my knowing that Eugene Lee is (or might be) a creative photographer helps me understand his restless stance, his desire to turn his folding chair over and lounge on the ground, and his uncurling his hair.  Kieran Baldwin sat patiently and peacefully.   Stephanie Daniels, a fundraiser, seemed to radiate a vast knowledge of everything imaginable.  Caroline Sharman, a private tutor, wore very nice shoes and leaned confidently against the Brick Theater’s wall, the nice brick texture of which I had ample time to appreciate.  Pablo de Rosas, a technology guy, seemed lost in troubling thoughts, a state of mind I would perhaps be shocked to see on the face of a fellow subway passenger.  Maybe that’s why confessionals don’t come with spotlights.  What other places in the world are safe places?
While watching the event and listening to the sound of air conditioning, I felt somewhat uncomfortable watching people who were uncomfortable. I thought of Yoko Ono’s classic “Cut Piece” (where she sat still as folks in the audience were invited to approach her and snip away pieces of her clothing). When I watch the video of “Cut Piece”, I feel as though the spectators who enjoy objectifying Yoko are being indicted.  I didn’t try to interact with the cast of This Is Normal, but by being their audience, I did.  With director Freeman’s help, they did not respond with faces they thought I might want to see, or by swapping identities the way Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon are now doing on Broadway in The Little Foxes. No, these five people were giving the audience a chance to really look, if it was not too scary, and to really listen, the way John Cage asked people to do with the silent composition “Four minutes thirty-three seconds”.