But first, they have to set up some chairs.
Walker Art Center
While they get the stage ready, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price talk between themselves about when it is and isn't okay to touch others, and yourself. At first, what they're saying may seem obvious, but soon they get around to mentioning some powerful and respected people who apparently haven't found it so obvious.
The topic is tangential to the substance of the show, but it's a way in to the world of Back to Back Theatre. Regulars at the Walker Art Center's Out There series will be familiar with that world: The Australian company are repeat participants who made a huge impression with 2013's remarkable Ganesh Versus the Third Reich.
The company closes out this year's series with a collaboratively authored show, directed by Bruce Gladwin, that continues the company's practice of elevating the voices of people with disabilities through probing and entertaining theatrical productions. As is the case elsewhere in the company's canon, The Shadow comments upon itself, drawing attention not just to the relationships depicted onstage but the relationship between the artists and their audience.
The four artists here all have intellectual disabilities of varying types. Part of the discussion among the performers, who take chairs on a stage that remains otherwise bare save for the eventual introduction of one monumental prop, involves how that feels, what its implications are for the speakers' identities and emotional lives.
How should they describe themselves, collectively? Views vary. Why do some experience feelings of shame, when if anything the shame should be felt by those who abuse and marginalize individuals with disabilities? That may be a rhetorical question, but the effect is real.
The show's premise is that we're watching a meeting: A speaker must be selected, and a message honed. It's initially unclear what that message might be, but by the end of 65 minutes, the show has executed a neat flip that hinges on the artificial intelligence transcribing the performers' words into surtitles. (The combination of an autistic dialect and a thick Australian accent presents challenges for American listeners, Price grudgingly acknowledges.)
After last week's highly stylized Ligia Lewis show, Back to Back bring Out There down to earth with this outwardly unassuming performance. If anything, The Shadow could be even simpler: The giant prop and the Luke Howard Trio's sometimes cloying music underscore yet distract from the show's substance.
Essentially, you're just watching four people talk. Although the show is scripted, the artists (who also include Michael Chan and Simon Laherty) use their own names and play versions of themselves, meaning the show creates the kind of space for perspectives that are too rarely heard in mainstream culture. It's an entertaining and refreshing reflection that doesn't minimize difference but nonetheless highlights our shared, confusing, exhilarating human condition.
Walker Art Center