by Hannah Bisewski
The Salvage Vanguard Theatre played host this past weekend to a single performance in Austin by two acting troupes from very different corners of the world. San Antonio’s Jump-Start Performance Company spent the last five weeks in intensive collaboration with a troupe known as Divadlo z Pasáže, or “Theatre from the Passage” from, of all places, the Slovak Republic. The product of this challenging and exceptional cooperation was Stranger, a heavily allegorical and visually stunning telling of human history.
The show, created and directed by Viera Dubacova of Divadlo z Pasáže, took advantage of the Salvage Vanguard’s large black box space to create a dark and void atmosphere. The opening moments were perhaps the most disorienting: ten or so adult performers in dark, oddly anachronistic clothing, moving in pairs back-to-back, slowly and uncertainly, until an apple falls from each of them. A naïve fascination with the fallen apples ensues, beautiful pantomimed, until they each take a bite from an apple, beginning the long history of human vice and error. Using an ever-growing pile of apples as a symbol for depravity of every kind, the actors moved fluidly from moments of prosperity and kindness to moments of vicious, brutish hatred for all others.
One detail that made this performance more striking than most was the fact that not only did half the actors travel from Slovakia to collaborate with performers who didn’t speak a word of Slovakian, but all of the performers from Europe had some degree of mental handicap. Audiences could feel the gap in culture and experience between the two troupes, and yet the actors had managed to articulate together a consolidated vision of universal patterns of human nature. The enormous disparities between their human experience as they all wore timeless, placeless clothing and appeared in a dark and characterless room, underlined the universality of the story they told. As the intensity of the performers’ movements grew, the understanding of our need to embrace the “strangers” of our societies and ourselves became urgent and apparent.