The first thing to know about Nature Theater’s No Dice is this: you don’t have to get your ham sandwich (or PB&J) at the beginning. You can wait until the intermission. Few of us understood this and we stood in line for sandwiches we weren’t ready for then let them get stale during the first act.
So, I’ll admit, it was tricky to stay awake for the first act–2 hours long–directly after dinner and a drink. The show was engaging–they’re back and still totally fun–it’s just hard to close a busy day with 4 total hours of theater and not get a little groggy. But Nature Theater says at the beginning that they saved the best for last, and it’s true. The first act does the building up, and the second half does the unraveling and explaining. About 1/5 of our audience bailed at intermission, leaving the back row almost empty, so I thought a blog was in order to say “stay! It’s worth it!”
It’s good to see Nature Theater returning with a long and kind of trying show. They were such darlings of last year’s TBA that they could have stormed in and done just about anything and been adored. (Their show last year was charm enough, but then they closed out the last night of TBA by setting up an impromptu stage in the parking lot of Audio Cinema, thumping out a song, and shaving their heads and armpits with an electric razor. For the lingering TBAers, sad to see the community dissipating again until next year, this was an ideal closing to an excellent festival.) But this time No Dice is a tougher one to get through, even with their trademark hand motions, clunky dancing and cozying up to audience members. They also face the audience the entire time, making eye contact, so it’s impossible to zone out for even a minute.
The premise is that the dialog is pulled from real conversations and then chopped up and looped and repeated. It doesn’t always make sense, there’s lots of ums and stumbles, and each main character repeats almost every group of conversation, so you hear it two to three times complete with awkward pauses. I can’t think of another show I’ve seen where characters frequently stop and let out long “ums” between lines, and it is disarming to the viewer. If you left at intermission you would miss how this connects to us, to the world, and would leave with an idea of the characters but not the impact of the show.
The second half explains almost everything from the first half, and explicitly looks at the quality of conversation in our daily lives and in society. (I still don’t get the beat boxing freaked out bat guy, but he’s also my favorite character.) Last year I spent a good portion of the show trying to crack the code of their hand moves, and this year is no different. At intermission I started chatting with a stranger and she began making the hand moves as our conversation got trite–brilliant. I’ll be making hand motions during small talk all year.
But then talk is what No Dice is about. As the show starts to wind down, a character faces the audience and asks, “what do we require if we want to enjoy ourselves in social situations?” Another says, “one might describe a civilization in terms of conversation” then they duck into the crowd, find an audience member, and repeat one of the most heartfelt–and heavily used–lines of the show.
This is what convinced me to go see Liz Haley. I’d been avoiding her lie detector set up at the Armory because I didn’t have any questions for her. In the noontime chat she said that the lie detector situation lets people feel close, like old friends, and they skip the small talk and jump right into heavy questions that you would only ask someone you knew well. The lie detector and the visible needle creates the kind of trust and intimacy that usually take a long time to develop. But I didn’t have any questions and so haven’t been, until last night when Nature Theater got me thinking. Here’s my new hypothesis: it doesn’t matter what the question is, and I may not have any questions at all. What Liz Haley’s lie detector sets up is a feeling of access to her raw emotion–and it is based on a feeling of power, but it’s access to her all the same. A lie detector helps you skip past the low level conversations. I still don’t have any questions for Liz, but what I want to experience is that feeling of instantaneous intimacy with someone, that potential for meaningful conversation with a stranger. And nothing deep or even interesting has to come out of it–maybe we’ll say nothing–but I want to feel what that accessibility is like and trap it for use in future conversations with strangers.
Listen to Liz Haley’s noontime chat here.
Nature Theater in chat with Kassys is here.
–Carissa Wodehouse
Blogger, member, enthusiast