Back To Back Theater
Small Metal Objects
Two hundred or so people, lining the stadium seats in Pioneer Courthouse Square, each wearing identical sets of headphones, none knowing exactly where to look. Some are looking back, over the shoulders, wondering whether that is where the action is. Others watch the green-clad uniformed employees of a local nursery, methodically gathering up and carting off the plants that littered the square as part of an earlier expo celebrating the opening of the new Max line. Still others glance at the faces of those near them, hoping for a clue. Through their headphones, they are all hearing the sounds of orchestral, atmospheric music, and over it a non-linear conversation between two people with Australian accents.
So began Small Metal Objects by Back to Back Theater.
Suddenly the authors of the disembodied conversation come into view, around the corner of a huge potted plant and into the central square before us, and a strange pair they are indeed: one short, rotund, with cropped dyed orange hair and a deep, husky voice but indeterminate gender; the other only slightly taller, very thin and holding himself a bit strangely, as if protective of himself from the influence of society’s clamor. The former, it is already obvious, is in some sense his helper and protector. The intimacy between them is sincere and deep. They have a connection. It reminds me of the main characters in Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: strange to others, but deeply familiar to each other.
As the plot unfolds, two other characters enter the two friends’ sphere, following a simple plot device that brings the outside world, with its pressure to conform, to hurry, to produce, to get results, etc, to bear on these two iconoclastic friends. Gradually, gently yet forcefully, the two friends resist and ultimately stymie the others and their plans. As a metaphor for the inability of society to bend itself around the needs of those with special needs, it was powerful. However, as an exploration of the challenges that people with special needs have in navigating the rules and expectations for behavior in society I thought the performance was particularly profound.
As poetic and poignant the story itself was, what was even more mesmerizing about this performance was the set-up: headphones in a public square gave me as a member of the audience the weird feeling that I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Sitting and overlooking the square, we could see all the activity of people walking around, but could only hear the actors, who looked just like other pedestrians in the square.
At one point, a guy walked directly in front of the actors, a cat riding on his shoulder. It couldn’t have been better if it had been planned.
- Seth Needler