As you enter the theatre, twelve empty chairs fill the back of the stage. They are in a line and several of them have instruments beside them. As the piece begins, the first actor arrives on stage and gives a description of a typical small American town, the shops, the schools and roads you can take to visit different parts of the town. When the first actor has completed their monologue they take a seat and the next comes out on stage. After that, they come in spurts, sometimes one, sometimes more, until all twelve are on stage, and so begins this odd journey.
This is a piece written and directed by Richard Maxwell and tells the story of a hero of sorts. The Neutral Hero of the title is not a dashing or triumphant one, but one concerned with the smaller events in life. This is a slow and subtle piece that moves at a steady pace. There is simple and lovely folk music played on instruments such as guitar, mandolin, violin, accordion and drums, and sang by individuals as well as by the chorus. There are slow moving dance routines, simple in nature and without great exertion of the actors. The lighting is unusual in nature, with the audience lit with the same lights as those on stage. This has the strange effect of keeping you detached from the events, not allowing you to be immersed in their world, but remaining present in your own.
This is an unusual piece of theatre that seemed to capture the imagination of some in the audience and bemuse considerably more. The after show talk tonight (10th Oct) was a fascinating event, as the director talked about what he was trying to achieve. The questions asked arrived at the issue of the banality or boredom of the events on stage, and Maxwell spoke of his ambition to create something that was less of a rollercoaster ride of emotion and allowed the audience to make of it what they will. There was frustration raised by some audience members, while others talked of zen like states and total immersion in the world. It’s rare to get people to speak their mind at these events, so the piece seemed to have struck a nerve, whether that’s a good thing or not, I’ll leave up to you.
Written and Directed by:
Jean Ann Garrish
Set and Lighting Design: Sascha van Reil
Costume Design: Kaye Voyce