Musical chairs and hide and seek. They're games we all remember from childhood, right? What do they tell us about humanity? Danish theatre company Teatret's US premiere of August, presented as part of the Kennedy Center's ongoing Nordic Cool 2013, uses these and other common experiences to delve into truths about the human condition with physical comedy and mostly silent interplay. What initially appears to be a silly clown piece - beginning with four individuals coming out of a large black box on an empty stage (Gitte Baastrup) and not immediately seeing others who are in the same situation - instead becomes something much deeper.
Drawing inspiration from art and philosophy, August is quite a unique theatrical experience. Directed by Lars Knutzon and performed by Stine Schröder Jensen, Kristian Holm Joensen, Folmer Kristensen and Hans Rønne, it considers the experience of four individuals who are alone in the dark. As they engage with one another and witness common struggles and triumphs, various universal truths about human behavior are revealed with humor, but also integrity. Light-hearted games, major life experiences, and much more - some good, some not so good - make these 'every women/men' increasingly aware of the power of emotion and how external forces and human interaction and experience, shape their world and state of being.
While the nearly 80 minutes running time is a bit excessive - the same ideas could probably be presented in fewer vignettes and have the same impact - the piece is enlightening, but also entertaining and accessible. The actors work together as a singular cohesive unit to convey the relatable messages through simple and complex interlay and are perhaps the major reason why this piece is recommended. Leveraging an array of physical comedy skills, they express more with their movements and facial expressions than one could even imagine being possible. Mostly hidden behind minimal clown makeup, grey overcoats, and wigs they manage to display an astonishing array of human emotions from anger, fear and sadness to giddiness and surprise. Aided only by simple props - a ladder, pillows, a scooter, a piece of fabric, chairs - they must rely on their relationships with each other to present the work in an organic and believable way.
Music (Søren Siegumfeldt) and lighting (Kisser Rosenquist) further theatricalize the presentation, but never overshadow the real heart of the piece, which is the connection between the four actors.
Running Time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
August plays through February 24, 2013 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F St, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or purchase them online. Further information on the Kennedy Center's Nordic Cool Festival (February 19 - March 17, 2013), including the other theatrical events being offered in the festival, can be found on the Kennedy Center website.
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center.