"Really, it's all in the names," longtime director, author—and mime—Sheila Kerrigan confidently explains. "When we're born we start out pure essence. Then we get to a certain age and we start receiving conflicting messages about growing up. That makes us addled essence." Kerrigan waits as the listener connects the elliptical dots. Addled essence. Adolescents. Oh. "And after a while, the essence just kind of goes, and then we're just addled. Thus, addl'ts." Adults. Huh.
Brainy wordplay like that provides the first clues that you probably shouldn't expect a lesson in quantum mechanics from the latest in Kerrigan's series of rare public performances, a work that uses mime and puppetry—forms most often associated with children's theater—in a show written for adults. Fair warning: In a show that pushes against convention, the mime talks. "It's a mime performance that doesn't look like a mime performance, in a solo show that isn't one."
But why String Theory? "It's my underlying theory that explains everything," she says of a work that explores what she calls "the 13 stages of woman," from before birth to after death. In it, the central character "accidentally uncovers the meaning of life. Then she struggles to communicate it, despite the forces that conspire against her."
Kerrigan candidly describes the origins of the work. "My father died in 2005, just before Christmas. Then in 2006, my mom died just after Christmas. Nine months later, I had a dream about their dying: what it means, what dying and death is like—and what it might look like from another view." The unexpected result? A "pretty silly" piece, Kerrigan laughs, in which "belly buttons have a very important place."
More seriously, Kerrigan refers to String Theory as the culmination of the work she's been doing for the last 40 years. And the strings she keeps referring to aren't just the standard invisible-tug-of-war fare that mimes have mined for decades. "The stage is populated with a number of characters," she says. "And as is the case with so many relationships, there are strings attached between them. Sometimes you see them. Sometimes you don't. Just like in life."
The venerable Jef Lambdin directs a work whose whimsy walks hand in hand with human insights more profound tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $13. —Byron Woods