There’s something very human about settling into your body with a brisk round of vomiting, then matter-of-factly apologizing for it. That’s how we meet two naked futuristic vacationers (Alice Yorke and Jed Hancock-Brainerd) in Sans Everything, “a space-age physical theater piece.” It’s the latest premiere from Lightning Rod Special (the creators of Underground Railroad Game), who teamed with Strange Attractor for this 90-minute ensemble-developed performance at FringeArts.
The queasy pair arrives from the future, when human beings have become a kind of eternal disembodied intelligence. They’ve chosen to take an experiential trip deep into the past of the human race, when we all had bodies and physical sensation.
Welcome to your body
Eight travelers eventually blunder into a white rectangular space bounded by vertical and horizontal blinds, with a ficus standing sentry at both ends, and a single furry black-and-gray rug. Set designer Masha Tsimring creates a space as sterile as it is versatile, drawing the actors into ever more frenetic loops in, out of, and around the stage, where the walls aren’t walls at all but doors of gently clattering blinds or spaces to peek and spy.
After settling the first item of business -- Orlando (Yorke) and Breathing (Hancock-Brainerd) have a vagina and a penis, respectively -- the rest of the performer/creator ensemble begins to appear: Roblin Gray Davis, Katie Gould, Mason Rosenthal, Scott Sheppard, Clara Weishahn, and Jennifer Kidwell -- who is disappointed because she signed up to experience life as a plant, not a human body. As the show progresses, other characters promote her ambition in touching ways, while developing their own obsessions.
Costume designer Rebecca Kanach starts the crew in metallic taupe zip-up onesies with short sleeves and pants; as the characters develop their own styles and goals, their outfits evolve too, with the help of motley overlaying dresses, pants, and jackets layered in earthier browns, blues, and greens.
“Not set in space, but done in space”
Aram Aghazarian (who helped create Philly Fringe hits such as Sincerity Project and 99 Breakups) is credited with the show’s original concept. Watching a rehearsal for As You Like It in a Manhattan high rise, he thought, “As You Like It in space. Not set in space, but done in space.”
The characters, once they’ve named themselves and ricocheted around the setting and each other, undertake a Shakespeare performance to better understand the human experience. They begin with a choral recitation of Jacques’s famous monologue about the seven ages of man, from puking infant to “second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
From there, suddenly kitted out in a wondrous assortment of spaceship detritus fashioned into undeniable Elizabethan style, they embark on the comedy’s wrestling scene.
“We’re all doing it”
But the futuristic voyagers don’t jump from mewling convulsions to Shakespearean scene work. As the characters explore their new bodies, they begin to surprise, delight, and terrorize themselves and each other by hiding and then revealing parts of their own bodies with the rug, and by turning their hands into rudimentary puppets.
Whether through Shakespeare or simpler, physicalized performance rituals, Sans Everything seems to tell us that the essence of being human emerges as we experience and then consciously divest ourselves from our own physicality and emotions.
Life becomes what you aren’t as much as what you are: As Orlando notes, by saying one word, you’re simultaneously robbing yourself of all the other words you could have said.
“We’re all doing it,” one character says of this perpetual state of performance, this diverging and duality in act and speech from our basic selves. “To do it on purpose deepens and widens the human experience.”
You could also call it the quintessential artistic impulse to create and expand new experiences. Since the temperature on the night of the performance I attended dropped well below freezing and I was recovering from an illness, I couldn’t have gotten to the show if I hadn’t battled some of my own body’s natural impulses.
But we don’t show any signs of stopping our hunt for a multi-tiered experience, where history and the future become an endless cycle and existence necessarily mutates into expression.
“More,” Orlando says as she sinks out of sight in the final tableau. “More.”
To read Mark Cofta's review, click here.