FringeArts presents Lightning Rod Special/Strange Attractor’s ‘Sans Everything’ (first review)

'Sans Everything' encompasses all

Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor take us on a deep-space adventure in Sans Everything, premiered at FringeArts for four performances. The show’s ensemble-derived 90 minutes propels us into the far future, presumably -- exposition is slim, making the play an engaging puzzle -- introducing eight beings given human form.

All the worlds are a stage. (Photo courtesy of FringeArts)

Life begins

Their self-discovery is amusing: Two of the creatures cavort like naked babies, exploring their bodies and finding their voices. Though they behave like newborns, they also possess encyclopedic knowledge. All eight beings soon wear unisex jumpsuits (costumes by Rebecca Kanach). A voice guides them, introducing food and inviting them to name themselves. They begin to probe what a life with limited time will be: "A moment-to-moment plodding," one says, "like a duck out of water." They're excited, yet scared; aren't we all?

Humans are, ominously, referred to in the past tense.

The environment, designed and lit by Masha Tsimring, could be an antiseptic office: White floors, walls made of alternating panels of vertical and horizontal blinds, a few plants. A steady, soft rumble, provided by sound designer Bard Pouliot, sounds like the recognizable vibrations of a spaceship in flight, as established by Star Trek and many other stories set in space. At one point, the voice invites his charges to look through the blinds at the stars.

The beings’ universe, however, is one another. As they grow, they don more individual clothing choices, discover romance, and -- most entertainingly and evocatively -- invent pretending, starting with peek-a-boo and building to creating characters and situations. "You can be completely different if you want," one encourages.

Play, and playfulness, within the play

Their ambition and excitement builds to the idea of performing Shakespeare's As You Like It, inspired (as is the play's title) by Jacques's "Seven Ages of Man" speech, which begins, "All the world's a stage…" They improvise costumes, cleverly designed by Kanach from the wiring, tubing, and Mylar one imagines might be available on a spaceship. From there, they begin to explore Shakespeare's romantic comedy, a metaphor for their lives as humans.

Though its ending might be predictable, that doesn't prevent Sans Everything from being beautiful. The play’s dialogue is smart and incisive, equaled by the ensemble's childlike and evolving movement styles and profound nonverbal moments, as when one character chooses to be a plant instead of a person. The show’s incredible journey, directed by Rebecca Noon with performers Roblin Gray Davis, Jed Hancock-Brainerd, Katie Gould, Jennifer Kidwell, Mason Rosenthal, Scott Sheppard, Clara Weishahn, and Alice Yorke, is a fascinating and fun meditation on the meaning and purpose of human life. 

To read Alaina Mabaso's review, click here.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.