Theater of the First Amendment Company
11 / 11 / 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
Eleven people are placed on an island in this new dance play. Perhaps they are stranded. Some, though, seem to be there by choice. We watch them interact and indulge themselves for 90 intermissionless minutes, speaking Heather McDonald's text and dancing Susan Shields' steps. At the end, they sight a ship offshore. Does it take them away from themselves and each other? Despite the signs cast by Gregory Cane's sky projections and many reminders of theater past (Theophile Gautier's "Giselle" scenario, Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk notions, Luigi Pirandello's "6 Characters in Search of an Author" and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" among them), we'll never know. Were there more structured action in the writing and choreography, we might even care. Too much of the time, though, these people seem to be just treading water.
Theater of the First Amendment is a professional troupe in residence at George Mason University. It usually performs on the university's Virginia campuses, but decided to premiere "Stay" in downtown Washington. The opening night cast included five Equity actors and such good dancers as Kalynn Marin, Laura Urgelles, Aaron Ingley and Scott Rink. The lines McDonald gives them try hard to sound spontaneous and not poetic. Much of the dancing, too, has a casual air but is balletic ballroom adapted to a windswept beach. Almost every character ultimately spouts philosophy or religion and is subject to an emotional trigger. One of the younger women has a mad scene that is part "Snake Pit", part "Giselle". Kalynn Marin's rendition of it is intense, yet the scene hasn't enough structure nor the necessary connections to move the overall action forward. In the past, the strength of Shiedls' dances was to summarize visually music of a definite character, scores that were organically developed. In "Stay", she is working with an assortment of musical selections and neither McDonald's writing nor directing suffice to satisfy the choreographer's need for musical form.