Like Brian PJ Cronin's I Am At My Best When I Am Singing Very Quietly last year, the theatre artists at AndHow! Theatre Company have taken the phrase Beginning the American Spirit and crafted it into an intriguing piece of dysfunctional Americana.
This year's offering, Andrew Iron'sNon -- D, is more surreal, flashing forwards and backwards in time as it tells the tale of a boy genius who does not speak but is capable of building nearly indestructible three-dimensional structures completely out of toothpicks. With the help of a young woman who crosses time and space, he confronts the weaknesses in dimensions by confronting the non-dimensional, his past. If Irons's writing at times seemed like an exercise in intellectual theatricality, he has nevertheless created a lyrical work of art that was often moving and always fascinating. It's not an easy piece: it demands (and received) intense concentration from its audience, it does not move in a linear fashion, at times it is purposely vague as to time, place, and character relationships. But these things said, when everything eventually does fall into place, Non -- D emerges as a stunning whole, and has to count as another score for this intelligently challenging company.
After her exceptional work last year with I Am At My Best..., Jessica Davis-Irons (the playwright's wife) topped herself with her gorgeously honed direction of this far more difficult piece. From the hushed elegance of the show's design to the tiniest detail of the touching performances, Non -- D was one of the most beautifully devised productions in recent memory. Artistic without being self-indulgent, everything was achieved with the purpose of showcasing the script to its best advantage. Neil Wilkinson's subtly beautiful beige-and-cream unit set (framed with toothpicks) was brilliantly lighted by Owen Hughes, and able to change time, place, and perspective in a flash. Becky Lasky's costumes were suitably colorful without diverting the muted tone of the show's palette.
As for the ensemble of performers, they all gave exquisitely intricate, subtle, sensitive and perfect characterizations. Arthur Aulisi offered yet another superb delineation of a man unsure of his paternal status -- similar in situation to his role in I Am At My Best..., he gave a completely different but equally compelling performance here. William Peden and Margie Stokley were also superb as the boy's mother and putative father; Jeremy Brisiel and Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone were both affectingly delicate in their roles as Narrator and Boy respectively; Sarah Bellows was beautifully low-key in her role of the time traveling lass; and Emanuele Ancorini and Richard Hamilton DiBella showed delightfully high energy in their multiple roles.
With I Am At My Best When I Am Singing Very Quietly last year, and now Non -- D, ANDHOW! Theatre Company has embarked on a wonderful theatrical journey to find the spirit of contemporary America. So far, they've hit two bulls-eyes -- what's next? If it's anything like these two productions, at the very least it promises to be another intelligent, eye-opening and completely original exercise in theatrical bliss.
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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita