Thursday evening found me at the School of the Arts' Black Box Theatre, where I took in two very different performances each designed for two performers.
The play "Wasteland" -- put on here by unMasqued Theatre in a touring production directed Jeffrey Schmidt -- is an intense, claustrophobic drama about two American soldiers imprisoned by enemy forces while serving in the Vietnam War. Both are named Joe, and both men are fans of the TV show "Star Trek." Beyond that, their differences seem to define them and threaten to divide and alienate one from the other as they attempt to survive their shared grim reality.
"Wasteland" centers on an unlikely connection rooted in shared experience, and Susan Felder's script is fittingly full of heart and empathy. Actors Drew Feldman and Ty Fanning have a gripping chemistry that is sustained with remarkable energy throughout the play, and the believability of their tumultuous bond is what makes the play work.
"Wasteland" is compelling theater, and those looking for a thoughtful examination of what separates us and what unites us in our common humanity would do well to take in this play. Additional performances are scheduled for Friday, September 25, at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, September 26, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. $12. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.
While "Wasteland" focused on the relationship between two people, the performance "Bach Without Boundaries" honed in on the relationship between two art forms -- music and dance, respectively. Violist Bridget Kinneary, an Eastman School of Music alumna, was joined by BIODANCE Artistic Director and University of Rochester professor Missy Pfohl Smith in a joint interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suite No. 4.
The acoustics of the Black Box Theatre were surprisingly good, possessing a clear and honest acoustic reflection of the viola's natural, rich tone. The performance was not merely about music and dance coexisting, but about achieving a fresh interaction between the two mediums. Even while playing her instrument, Kinneary took on an integral role in the choreography by moving in direct response to Pfohl Smith, rather than simply stand off to the side and play solitarily. The interaction between the two performers was not just purely aesthetic, but highly physical as well. At moments, Kinneary sat down on Pfohl Smith's back to play while the dancer crawled on her hands and knees.
As for Pfohl Smith's choreography specifically, there was a looseness, a freedom that frequently evinced itself in the unencumbered flowing of limbs and a willingness to use the entire stage.At one point, the choreographer stopped dancing altogether to admire the music -- in and of itself a poignant gesture. All this pointed to the vitality of Bach's genius.
Ultimately, the dance did more to outline the overall arc of the musical phrasing than it did to interpret Kinneary's articulation of individual notes. For its part, the violist's playing was attentive, limber, and poised in a perpetual legato that was sumptuous without muddying the phrases.
The next performance of "Bach Without Boundaries" -- which seems to suggest an ongoing collaboration between Kinneary and Smith -- is on Saturday, September 26, at 12 p.m. $3-$8. Appropriate for agest 13 and older.