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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 22, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 43
Splashy Sextet a fantastic live-art concept
Arts & Entertainment
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Splashy Sextet a fantastic live-art concept

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Sextet
Washington Ensemble
Theatre
Through November 15


This world-premiere piece at Washington Ensemble Theatre (more familiarly known as 'WET') is one of the edgiest and most provocative theater pieces I've seen in a long time. The biggest reason for this is actually the set, by Andrea Bryn Bush, a current nominee for a Gregory Award in Scenic Design. She created a paneled room with about two inches of water enclosed in a room-sized 'pan,' so the actors are constantly moving in water. (Those who sit in the front row, be aware that you might get a bit sprinkled on, though it's unintentional.)

Director Roger Benington embraces the set, making the actors ignore the water altogether while having them sit and lie in it, as called for in the script. The sound of moving water is constant. That organic sound adds to the soundscape (designed by Skylar Burger), which is classical in nature, since the play itself is about classical music composers and their love lives. Playwright Tommy Smith describes that he found a connection between their lousy love lives and their development of areas of music that made them famous. Schoenberg found a '12-tone technique,' Gesualdo developed a 'chromatism,' and Tchaikovsky developed his emotional expression in his 'Sixth Symphony.'

Set simultaneously in Austria, Italy, and Russia, the play exhibits the trio of musicians and their triangulated lives with a partner and another lover. Schoenberg (Brandon J. Simmons) had a wife (Heather Persinger) who fooled around with a painter (Tony Palmer); Gesualdo (Chris Macdonald) had a wife (Hannah Victoria Franklin) who fooled around with another nobleman (James James); Tchaikovsky (John Abramson) married a young woman who loved him (Samantha Leeds), but actually loved and lived with his nephew (Steven Ackley).

The actors speak simultaneous lines, which sometimes gives an odd echo effect and also mimics a choral composition (again adding to the classical music themes). Some of the overlapping dialogue, combined with splashing water, can be obscured. The basic stories are pretty clear, but the poetry of the words may well be missed. However, the urgency of sex - via simulated intercourse and oral sex, a little nudity, and wet garments - is loud and clear.

The characters are not in the same century, much less the same city, so they interact only with their own trio. However, so much is going on that you may not learn much about either their art or their lives. Still, as a movement piece, a fantastic live-art concept, an aural treat, and a conceptual wonder, it's an evening to remember.

In fact, the women in the piece float to the top in some of the most provocative moments. Their lack of choices and feeble attempts to insert some mastery of themselves into their lives, albeit with lovers, makes for the most emotional connections to the audience. Leeds, who plays the young woman married to a closeted homosexual, is the most sorrowful and trapped of all.

This is nowhere near traditional theater, so those who have been asking for, wishing for, or craving something 'different' should run, not walk, to get their tickets. It is non-linear, incomplete (as storytelling), complicated, and visually provocative. It is not meant to be a lovely evening, nor is it 'feel-good' theatre, and it embraces this challenge. Whatever you end up thinking about it, it's likely that you'll end up pondering it, or some aspect of it, for days to come, or more. For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/producerevent/123698?prod_id=1741 or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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