Sunday, November 21, 2021

"Anamnesis" by The Moving Company at the Southern Theater

Two years after their last live show (during which interval they produced a charming, funny, and profound little web series called Liberty Falls 2020), the Moving Company is back on stage where they belong. As I found my seat in the nearly full-to-capacity vaxxed and masked crowd at the Southern Theater last night, and saw the black tarp-covered object filling the space under the historic arch, I had no idea what I was in for. But after ten years of experiencing this company that is the descendent of the famed Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, I knew it would be unique, inventive, and, yes, moving. Anamnesis is all that and more (continuing at the Southern Theater through December 4).

photo by Dominique Serrand
The show begins with the eight performers (Eiostí Aaske, Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Julia Valen, Maddie Granlund, Marion Alvet, Masanari Kawahara, Nathan Keepers, and Steven Epp) emerging from underneath the tarp, circling around the stage, and slowly pulling down the tarp to reveal a concrete wall. Continuing to circle the wall, they bring out a table and mismatched chairs, all in shades of white and gray, sit down in silence, and then hug each other as if they haven't seen each other in years. "So, where were we?" one of them asks, as if picking something up after a very long hiatus. The something turns out to be a play, and this is a troupe of actors, who begin working on a couple of scenes in an amusingly meta play-within-a-play way that shows us the artistic process while poking gentle fun at it. But when they actually run the scenes, which involve an elderly woman (Masanari) remembering a life-changing moment on a train in Japan in her youth, and her son (Nathan) who went away and came back, we get lost in the story of this woman's past, a man being taken in by a herd of elephants, and a messenger. Until they break out of it again and go back to being actors rehearsing a play.

photo by Dominique Serrand
The Moving Company often uses the four elements in their work in a literal way. Here we have water being poured out and splashed around (in a monologue by Steven that feels reminiscent of their first work Come Hell and High Water, which in my memory ended with the entire floor of the Southern being flooded with water), red dirt sprinkled about (see also Speechless), and a pivotal fire (not literal, this one was created with theater magic). There's also a mesmerizing melting glass trick, haunting music, and a play with light and shadow, all of these elements adding meaning and interest to the storytelling. (Lighting design by Marcus Dilliard, original music by Eric Jensen.)

The cool color scheme of white/gray/black, and every shade in between, extends from the simple tables and chairs that are the only set pieces, to the cast's casual chic wardrobe. Most of the ensemble is onstage for most of the piece, often sitting on the sidelines watching. On the right side of the stage is a dressing room counter with mirror and lights, showing us the backstage side of things. In an exploration of the "there are no small parts" idiom, Jennifer transforms into an eccentric costume designer, a bit of silly fun that turns into something more serious upon later revisiting. Every prop, every word, every movement, even those that seem random and chaotic, is so thoughtful and imbued with meaning, even if the meaning isn't obvious at first glance. (Costume design by Sonya Berlovitz, set design by Dominique Serrand with Chad Lynch.)

Conceived and written by Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers, and director Dominique Serrand, with input from the cast, Anamnesis (which means "the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence") is such a perfect expression of now. The play ends with a profound statement that feels entirely appropriate to this time of slowly emerging from this pandemic, which has been a hiatus in so many areas of life, including theater. The metaphor of the script being partly burned away, and now we have to imagine what comes next, couldn't be more apt for the world we find ourselves in. So many areas of our lives, society, and culture have burned up, literally and figuratively, and now it's up to us to re-write the world in a better, more inclusive, more just way.

The Moving Company never disappoints with its artistic exploration of humanity, the world we live in, and the nature of art itself, an exploration that truly covers the range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Continuing for two more weekends only at the Southern Theater (click here for info and tickets).

and in that moment of now
at low tide
I see in your eyes
the moon
come swimming back
and we begin again