Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Way Out West, the Sea Whispered Me

Talented and creative as the two-man troupe Cupola Bobber may be, their latest show Way Out West, the Sea Whispered Me is an exercise in patience. Those who have it--patience--don't need to see the show. Those who don't have it won't make it past the first ten minutes of awkward silence, even if they're told Stephen Fiehn and Tyler B. Myers's depiction of the slow, steady erosions of the sea (inspired by a trip to Dunwich, which is sinking into the sea) will eventually build into an absurdist storm.

If you're familiar with Beckett's "Act Without Words II," you'll be right at home with the first half of Way Out West, which like most existential comedy is exasperatingly true. The heroes are men, by and large, of inaction, and their inertia is palpable. Bound to each other (and two suitcases), they march to the crackling sound of an old phonograph, crossing a white tarp, labeling (and collecting) clumps of sand as they go. Why they do this is no more relevant than why Tyler slowly bends his starched-stiff tie until it points upward, obscuring his face. Nor is it more obvious than Steven's choice to leap into a cushion of air, to lie there as the cushion slowly deflates and collapses around him. Life is one giant, awkward pause.

The text is just as cruelly cryptic, focusing on the picture of an upside-down mountain, and the dead-pan whimsy of that image, taken at face value. What works--or at least breaks the monotony--are the ways in which the two play with their set; as Steven slowly recounts a list of objects that the sea has swallowed up, gradually growing larger in scale ("the steps of the church are on an adventure"), Tyler uses a crude pulley to whip up the tarp, revealing the blue "sea" beneath. The tidal sound of waves is conjured up by putting a powerful mic in front of a rotating fan, the wind roaring by with each new circuit.

Toward the end of the play, the two at last begin to deconstruct their performance: "It's not weird, it's artistic," says Steven, giving Tyler--who is carrying him on his back--instructions that detail the weird/artistic bit of walking that Steven's been doing, blindfolded, for the last ten minutes. The biggest problem with Way Out West, the Sea Whispered Me is that this question--is it weird or artistic? inspiring or insipid?--ends up taking over whatever existential truths the duo hoped to arrive at. Marvelous as their set's origami design may be, it's the restless creak of the theater that the audience will most identify with.

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