Shimer Theatre performs trio of pieces in a conceptually claustrophobic show

Sun, 2017/04/16
Reno Waswil

As might be overlooked, the Illinois Tech campus community is not limited to its Illinois Tech affiliates; the university’s Mies Campus (MC) location shares its property, many of its facilities, and a sense of its community with two other unaffiliated colleges: VanderCook College of Music and Shimer “Great Books” College. Unfortunately, Shimer, after spending nearly 11 years in its current location, is in the course of its last semester as its own entity before moving to Naperville to become fully integrated into the suburb’s liberal arts college North Central College. And so, with this unfortunate news, Shimer Theater put on what will probably be their last performance at least in the entity’s current form: a trio of pieces in a show directed by Todd Frugia titled “a PLAY, a POEM, and a SPRECHSTÜCK.”

The conceptual rather than narrative show starred Shimer students Mark Cunningham and Abby MacLachlan, and aired for three days, April 13, 14, and 15 from 8-9 p.m. in the school's Cinderella Room.

Over the course of the hour, the staging had the two actors stood at podiums at opposite ends of the audience, creating an intended intimacy between the parties. As the program explained, the pieces making up the show were chosen for their shared unpredictability and conveyed perspectives of fear, anxiety, and danger.  “We've strived,” it stated, “to create a claustrophobic auditory journey that puts the spotlight on the text itself.” It was under these circumstances and towards these effects that three pieces were performed by the two.

The first piece was called “PANIC! (How to be Happy)” and was written by leading figure in avant-garde theatre and founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, Richard Foreman. The absurdist play was slightly presentational and humorous, serving as something of an introduction to the show itself. The actors would speak to the audience, telling them when to take off and put on “the blinders.” Furthermore, a series of forced laughs following poetic utterances, speaking over megaphones, humming, and waxing singing of the hook from the song “Come Sail Away” by the band Styx, added additional elements of humor to the piece.

Lights coming down on this performance, the actors came back up to perform a more dramatic piece by poet, essayist, translator, and professor of Classics Anne Carson titled “Lots of Guns.” This poem/play was made up of several theme-interconnecting parts (including “Guns and Desire” parts one, two, etc. and “Guns and Robbery”), each of which separated by the playing of bells situated by each of the podiums. The piece began and ended with dialogue between two particular characters -- Cunningham’s sporting a western accent holding a gun on MacLachlan’s, who remained, overall, unfazed. Parts were also punctuated by unison readings of similarly styled verses generally sharing phrases such as “The mythical past. The curious past. Lots of guns.” The show toyed with Freudian interpretations, gender, and other abstract thoughts on or relating to guns.

The third and the Sprechstrück (or Speak-in) of the trio was “Calling for Help,” written by Austrian novelist, playwright, essayist, and poet Peter Handke. The piece started with a disclaimer provided by the actors explaining the course of events to be expected. The show would have two seekers who would be searching for the word help and need help finding that word help but could not ask for help. They would eventually find it after which they would not need help any longer and their use of the word would be meaningless. Audience members would not be allowed to help, and the actors would be frightened if they tried. The actors were also allowed to, at intervals, drink Coca Cola, which they did.

This was summarily what commenced, and the actors, after one made any word or statement, many of which were societally common terms such as “yield” or “credit cards accepted here,” would respond, with a certain inflection and implied meaning, “no.” This went on in what was, at times, a cacophonous dance, until the word was finally found with resounding answers of “yes!” in response.