Maximalist Minimalism

The Wooster Group makes an art out of wielding a minimalistic approach for maximal and maximalist effect.

The company revels in seemingly minimalist set-ups that ultimately overload audiences with a cornucopia of interpretative material.

Their new show, Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me (at the legendary Performing Garage through October 7) boasts one such seemingly simple, stripped-down premise: a single performer orates passed-down “toasts” — think of them as twisted parables — that were recorded on the LP of the same name, underscored by an onstage drummer. From this initially, relatively frills-free arrangement, the production adds other layers to deepen the parameters of our understanding and engagement.

The first layer of interpretative material: the topsy-turvy toasts themselves; what we’re supposed to take away from the stories is far from immediately clear — they require unpacking to consider all of their possible meanings and resonances.

And how does the music change our conception of these toasts? Is it improvisational or composed? How does this question intersect with the oral tradition on display?

And then we have to factor in the different ways each individual toast is staged. Where is the orator positioned when he delivers the toast (hey blocking!), and why? What performance style does he don…and why? And how do these choices alter how the toasts register with us?

AND THEN, the audience is implicitly asked to interpretatively compare how these toasts and each’s performance style relate to the other half of the evening: in between toasts, the reciter — as well as the drummer! — share strands of their personal lives; what’s the relation??

AND THEN we gotta reckon with Wooster’s always complicated sound design. Is the orator listening to the recording in his headphones, and then saying what he hears verbatim? Why! And how does it change our connection to the artistry?

Oh, and what’s up with the visuals on the screens / projections? And what buttons does he keep pressing, and why, and is there any rhyme/reason/function as to when he does so??

In the land of Wooster, rhyme/reason/function are open-ended inquiries. We’re left wondering: how do all of these technical, dramaturgical, and staging elements interplay with the recorded toasts? Which is basically the conceit of the production: because recordings of these toasts exist, deciding to stage them means that the nature of the staging is crucial to what’s trying to be conveyed. As such, each element therein is both key and a key.

They all contribute to the production’s modus operandi: reenacting and reenergizing, by reembodying, the contents of an oral tradition.

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