6x5, le bonheur a besoin de témoins
nytheatre.com review by Susan Gordon
August 22, 2006
Writer/director Shelly De Vito's play, 6x5, le bonheur a besoin de témoins, is constantly splitting in two. Two women meet in an asylum. The older plays out her role as mother to a missing daughter and as mother to the younger, who plays a dual daughter role. Words are fractured too, into written and spoken, understood and not, English and French.
As the play begins, projected words appear wispily, high on a wall behind the set. The two women appear and the younger is the first to speak. She whispers (in French) the single word "Oak" again as it appears written above her, the combination evoking the word, sound, smell, idea of the tree as she searches for new ways to see. "They say," the older says, "that you were digging holes in the dirt with your hands." "They're wrong," the younger explains, "I was making piles of dirt, I wanted a new way to look at the flowers." Neither woman can find a way into life, but for entirely different reasons. The younger is desperately desiring to live on her own terms, to make the world around her come alive in complex ways. The older is rooted deep in a life that ended ten years ago when her daughter left home.
De Vito has set herself the task of making objects and bodies exist in the same plane as words and sounds. At times she seems to have overreached. The acting is a bit clunky, mostly because there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of it, as if De Vito wasn't quite sure what she wanted bodies to do amidst the feast of words, sounds, and ideas, which are the strongest elements of the show. The actors and the play's intentions come together at brief moments in the truly beautiful movements of the younger girl as she tries to find herself alone in space, looking for ways to breathe. One particular dance with stockings, a picture of insanity and innocence, is, simply, astounding.
Spoken French whispers, accuses, pierces the small theatre as written English words haunt the space in stylized typefaces, sometimes lingering gorgeously too long over the action below. But, although it didn't have to be, the French dialogue is a problem if you don't understand the language. There isn't enough movement or intonation or other media to get the play beyond language, as it seemed to be wanting to do so badly. The words floating so far overheard give an appropriately frustrating feeling of further meaning and echoes hovering just beyond the reach of the actors' words and motions. But this could have been pulled off just as well if the words were projected close enough to the action that we could see both realms at the same time.
6x5 ends the way it begins, with "Oak." It's in story form this time, and there is a certain color there too (flashes of which foreshadow the ending throughout the play) and a concrete part of the younger girl's life that serves as anchor and an arrival at joy for both women. De Vito's play is a dance between situations and ideas. It's a multimedia poem, one that remains maddeningly opaque at times, but one that, as poems should, will make you think and want to read it again and again.