Walking into Atlas’s Sprenger Theatre before the Naked Stark’s The Importance of Normal is a surreal experience. The off kilter bare wood set, with slanting platforms and chairs set up not quite right, is shrouded in a soft amber light. Unidentifiable creaking sounds can be heard. Then there are the dancers, frozen eerily in unnatural positions. The cellist sits statue still, bow at the ready. Suddenly a shift and a single eerie note sounds. The dancers seem restless as they move into a new position.
This is the story of a girl/woman. The girl/woman lets the world put her in boxes, and in trying to please everyone makes decisions that later rattle her sense of self and send her into a downward spiral. The girl/woman is played by Katherine Kiefer Stark, Meredith Stapleton, and Grace Stern, sometimes separately and sometimes all at once. Beau Hancock plays the husband that the girl/woman married too young.
Balance is pivotal to the movements that Katherine Kiefer Stark has choreographed. The dancers play with shared weight, using each other and the set pieces to propel their motion. Body lines are often intentionally broken – feet are flexed, knees are bent. This piece is not a piece to showcase high kicks and pretty turns. Rather Stark uses weight distribution to demonstrate reliance, burden, and the struggle to stand up straight in a world that has become askew.
The Importance of Normal is a piece of visual art in perpetual motion. Katherine Kiefer Stark’s set components are carefully designed to slide, tilt, and change positions during the dancing. Lighting by Leigh A Mumford reflects fractured tape lines on the floor. Huge pieces of paper hang from a frame across the back of the stage, and Stapleton writes the important plot points in dark scrawling letters across them. Towards the back of the stage Konnie K Stark surrealistically taps away at a tiny child sized piano. It feels as if you are peering into a life sized music box.
Sound is an integral part of this production. Paul Stern’s sound score is appropriately disconcerting. Layered over this score is the haunting live cello music of Ajibola Rivers, interspersed with piano accompaniment by Konnie K Stark. The Importance of Normal is worth seeing for the talent of the musicians alone.
This is interdisciplinary collaboration at its finest.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
The Importance of Normal is playing through July 17, 2016 at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Sprenger Theatre – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
RATING: BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!