A fine-featured woman throws her head back laughing uproariously. She chatters enthusiastically in indecipherable gibberish to another woman, who sits tied to a single chair on the stage. The theater blacks out and a blast of tango music bursts from the house speakers.
What follows? Obviously, it’s a large black man dressed in a Chinese print silk shirt and bright blue socks. He’s sporting Joe Boxer boxers (with little flaming smiley faces), a red and white checkered coat and a delightful bow-tie. He grips a white rose between his teeth and sashays across the stage.
Earlier, this same man performed a monologue from Ecclesiastes with the help of a little white ship and a big yellow sun.
These images, movements and actions are only some of the many which define “Last Minute,” a new experimental production by D.C.’s own Theatre du Jour.
As the introduction to the play explains, “Last Minute” was born from a collaboration of the director B. Stanley and the actors. It is not so much a production, but rather a process in which inevitably engages the audience during the performance. This may be experimental theater, but it is a cohesive, well-thought-out experiment.
The play beings with a single empty chair in the middle of the stage, everything is quiet except for the calculated buzzing of electric lights. A blindfolded, handcuffed and gagged woman (Woman #1, Kris Roth) emerges from the dark. Behind her, there is a man with a gun (Captor, Nader Tavangar). The Captor carefully ties the woman to the chair. He quietly removes her blindfold, exposing the woman to the audience. He leaves and the lights go dark.
The rest of the play flows along as a series of scenes and images until the plays rather abrupt and jarring finale.
“Obviously,” “Last Minute” director, dramatist and designer B. Stanley, explained later, “our images are not meant to communicate anything specific. We are trying to look for arc typical situations or imagery that will create memories.”
In “Last Minute” a captive woman faces death. The series of images that follow communicate her struggle. She moves from terror and desperation to curiosity to contemplation and even hope.
Woman #1 remains on-stage for the entire play. While both the Clown (Dan C. Awkward Jr.) and Woman #2 (Sian Richards) give powerful and magnetic performances, Woman #1 manages to keep the audiences’ attention throughout with the limited use of her face and posture.
Theatre du Jour works with a very specific method. The members meet at least twice a week to train as actors and the performance is born out of this training.
“I watch these things evolve,” Stanley said, “I watch them use these little pieces of material, which might be rubbing their head with their hand or sitting in a chair and looking around and these becomes little snippets. These little snippets get to be so defined that images start to appeal to me and I begin to put them into a context. I start decorating what they have already done.”
The play is stunning and perplexing and it carries itself with a cohesion rare in experimental theater.
“A lot of what people call experimental theater,” Stanley explained, “is mostly young actors and actresses trying to play around within theater, they don’t really have an experiment. To me, experimental theater is exactly that, you have to have a hypothesis and then you have to prove or disprove it. That process is the experiment.”
For Stanley and Theatre du Jour the experiment has been to find a bridge between actors’ training and the performance.
“We want to get away from text and go right toward the heart of it, which I think is the event, the activity that people come to watch.”
The performance should not be separate from the process. Rather, the process should continue through the training into the performance.
“Last Minute” flows beautifully. By interaction with the material as a spectator, each member of the audience himself takes on this process and it continues well after the performance.
“That is my objective,” Stanley said, “to create memories that will then color how you see things in the future. I am not so worried about commenting on your past as much as giving you new ammunition for your future.”