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Flash Review 1, 8-2: Pigs Fly
Philly's Silk Purse

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2001 Chris Dohse

Most of the individuals who created Pig Iron Theatre Company's "Gentlemen Volunteers" are graduates of the Ecole Jaques Lecoq in Paris, a school for mime, clowning, and more. Their intimate ensemble piece, seen last night at the Ohio Theater (part of Soho Think Tank's 2001 Ice Factory) is played in 'promenade' style, meaning the audience follows the action as it travels around and through the space. More than a theatrical conceit, the ambulatory viewing weds the actors to the viewer in a way that enhances Pig Iron's simple, well-told tale of human relationships, while creating opportunities to smile at your companions as you shuffle from one seating station to the next. Already an international hit, this four-night-only gig is hopefully the precursor to a longer NYC run.

Playwright Solweig Holum's story unfolds against the onset of World War I. Two American Red Cross volunteers (Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel and Dito van Reigersberg) meet two nurses -- one French (Emmanuelle Delpech), one English (Cassandra Friend) -- in France before going to the front. A narrative emerges slowly, as each character is introduced. Then two romances evolve and subsequently unravel, in terse vignettes of mimed action, letter writing, humor and pathos. It would spoil enjoyment of the play to give the specific outcomes of the two pairs; their fates are suitably cinematic amid war's strife.

The Lecoq training creates articulately physical, acutely sensitive characterizations. All four actors are winning and adept. Pedestrian activity, gesture and emotion combine as an evocative whole. James Sugg, sound designer for the production, accompanies the play with an environment of sound effects from various stations near the action.

As luck would have it, the five-year-old Pig Iron is based in Philadelphia, a city I'm not crazy about in general. I got a surprise reading the program notes. Years ago, Pig Iron's costume designer (Lisa Leaverton) sang and played viola in on the soundtrack of a dance I created in Baltimore! These people, like New York's Ridge Theatre Company and Chicago's Goat Island, are clearly on the edge of an exciting synthesis of text and movement that could well ignite many knock-offs. "Gentlemen Volunteers," with its creative use of space and vibrant performances, makes a memorable, inspiring evening of theatre.

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