the abundance project
both hands theatre company
@ Golden Belt Arts
Through June 12
There is a wonderful repeating sequence in Fred Chappell's I Am One of You Forever in which an older man is asked whether he'd like a little more food. No, thank you, he replies with satisfied courtesy, "I have a gracious sufficiency. Any more would be a superfluity."
I thought of that line several times during both hands theatre's performance of the abundance project, while I was squirming on a hard chair and wishing for more. (Sorry about the provoking lack of uppercase letters—it's the company's style.) Despite the work's title, there was for me neither a sufficiency nor a superfluity—neither the depth nor the breadth of idea to sustain satisfaction even for the short hour's production time. Clearly this was not the case for everyone there, which was a potent reminder that everything is new and fresh to someone at any point in time. And obviously there are still people whose self-worth is dependent on a large income, or the acquisition of bigger, better, faster stuff, and they might have found some of the monologues enlightening—however, they are not likely to attend an artsy little local theater in a makeshift space in east Durham in order to be mentally jolted. But for anyone who has thought much about the idea of abundance or its opposite, or even about any of the ancillary concepts like desire, attachment, paucity and excess, the vignettes in this show will not provide much sustenance.
The production itself is a kind of stone soup, made by Tamara Kissane, Cheryl Chamblee and friends from goodwill and community and collaboration in a process that is clearly good for the artists. Like so much process art, however, the product is a little lacking in coherence to those not involved in its making. the abundance project consists of multiple monologues and "duets" strung together without benefit of story—they are connected merely by their association with the concept of abundance. Three excellent actors, Laurie Wolf, Thaddaeus Edwards and LaMark Wright (their expressive physicality all the more valuable in the acoustically difficult space), play 24 characters, but these characters do not interact. There is some sharp observation and witty writing, but none of the vignettes made me feel anything except an irritated sorrow at the isolation of these unconnected souls racing through the script at the frenetic pace of late-night television ads.
What did interest me very much was the way the show was made like a piece of music. Its themes and subthemes with their repeats and cycling progress through shifting variations in tone and texture are arranged into something that is more like a cerebral musical composition than a theater piece. In fact, I couldn't locate the necessity of staging this work. Despite all the careful attention to visual detail, it lacks compelling imagery, and the stage movement is arbitrary (with no narrative and little feeling, there is nothing that drives particular movement). I wondered if this project might be more abundant as a sound recording emphasizing its musicality.