“Hi. Yes. Okay. Sorry.”
For the first three “movements” of the actor symphony SONATA: The Naked Theatre Project, written and directed by Solomon Haileselassie, these are the only words uttered by the ensemble cast. But hold on to your seats because as the show progresses the actors cease to talk at all. Okay? Sorry.
The show is broken down into four pieces that contain a total of eleven short vignettes. Each vignette is listed in the program as a “movement” as in a classical music concert. The vignettes stand on their own and the versatile ensemble of actors rotates characters according to the needs of each.
It is important to come to Sonata with an open mind and to accept the gaps in understanding that come when language is removed. Once I did this I could enjoy the show but until then I could not help but feel a sense of panic every time I felt myself getting lost. Watching theatre that involves only body language gives the audience only the experience of the character’s present moment without any context or back story. As a result this is a fill-in-the-blank show. It is up to each audience member to allow their own experiences to provide the missing information of each scene. As a result my experience of Sonata was vastly different than that of every other member of the audience.
The strong ensemble cast of seven carries the show well and each actor transitions smoothly between characters. Particularly notable is actress Ines Dominguez del Corral, who has a huge range and solid command of her body. Her fluid and raw personification of grief in the final piece, Tiny Coffin, is beautiful and moving. Francesca Chilcote endears herself to the audience in her role as a Charlie Chaplin-esque cleaner/sweeper. The character pops out before the show and between scenes and performs antics with a broom and spray bottle that keep the show moving along.
Completely different in tone, Sydney Lawson gives a commendable performance in Adolescene in the Park, a powerful solo to the sounds of pouring rain.
While there are too many vignettes to mention individually, Sonata offers the audience a chocolate box of scenes to choose from. From comic, to dramatic, to dramatic but actually pretty funny, if you don’t like the current scene you probably will like the next. In my personal favorite the ensemble stands shrouded in black around a burial site. Nothing happens and everything happens. To understand you really just have to be there.
Annexus Theatre Company presents Sonata as part of the Naked Theatre Project, which seeks to explore movement and body language as a lost mode of communication. Haileselassie proves himself to be a brave director, unafraid to take big risks – often with great pay off.
Joining Hailesalassie are Chanel Smith and Anastasia Wilson. Wilson’s choreographs for Jersey Shore, a light and enjoyable addition, and Smith’s choreography in Tiny Coffin are a highlight of the show. The production moves at a brisk pace, and the scenes flow swiftly from one to another.
Austin Byrd’s lighting design greatly aids the show and the sound design, another Hailesalassie creation, is perfectly chosen and timed to enhance the actors.
The grand finale of the show, Tiny Coffin, is an extensive monologue performed by writer and Director Solomon Haileselassie. It is immediately followed by the same story told only in movement. The piece is meant to set dialogue and movement next to each other for immediate comparison. Which is more effective?
Out of the two sections the moment that sticks with me most is Corral, chained by a long yellow cloth, desperately trying to get out of the entanglement while the ensemble holds the ends of the cloth and pulls her back in the other direction. Unlike the rest of the show though, the monologue proceeding this number gives the audience context. Perhaps we can live for ourselves, moment to moment, taking in only movement, but it is language that allows the audience to finally come together and watch the same show.
SONATA: The Naked Theatre Project is not your traditional show but it promises to challenge a willing audience. So take a risk.
Running Time: 85 minutes
SONATA: The Naked Theatre Project plays through July 26, 2015 at Galludet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre –Florida Avenue NE & 8th St NE, in Washington DC. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe Page.