Young college student Mira (Kerry Anderson) is lately restless, neurotic, prone to weeping. She feels as if she’s forgotten something crucial. But poetry changes everything — it raises Mira from her anomie and offers her communion and transcendence. The innovative theater company Bare Portland presents Mira’s story, inspired by the text and lyricism of Tennessee Williams, in a movement performance accompanied by an individualized digital experience of sound and words. Directed by Tarra Bouchard and choreographed by Liz Pettengill, Mira runs this weekend only at SPACE.
The dancers portraying Mira and her peers — Kerry Anderson, Emily Dunuwila, and Allie Freed — perform her tale wordlessly. The verbal story, pre-recorded and voiced by Bridgette Loraine and James Patefield, comes in three variations, from the perspectives of Him, Her, and Them, and is conveyed via digital app over headphones (theater goers should plan to bring to the show a wifi-capable device and headphones). Audience members can opt to follow any one of the three audio tracks, or can switch between them throughout the performance of Mira’s transformation.
The narrative of Mira takes as specific inspiration Williams’ short story “The Field of Blue Children.” Though heroine Mira has been going through the motions of going out with fraternity boy Kirk (Freed), she is fascinated by a poet, Homer (Dunuwila), whose awkwardness is a kinetic delight of tripping and bumbling: As Homer Dunuwila percussively rips notebook paper, runs a crumpled ball of it across the floor under a foot. Such physicality is rich throughout the ensemble’s characterizations. Kirk cavalierly adjusts and arranges Mira’s arms, hands, and chin as if she is a doll. The arms and fingers of Homer’s odd girlfriend Hertha (Freed) quiver and twitch in comically amplified enthusiasm.
Mira’s transport is expressed with especial warmth and tenderness. As she sits at a desk writing, her face loosens and flushes while a dancer upstage, physicalizing her internal transformation by stretching, rising, extending a leg high. And Mira’s tension between social convention and her own increasingly sensual curiosity manifests in some beautifully odd physical formulations: Mira’s self-conscious praise of Homer’s poem is rendered as a carefully, classically poised reverence of arms. Her knock on his door is two furtive scuffs of a foot against the floor. And her floundering explanation of why she has come is a rippling convolutions of arms. Like Williams’ prose itself, Pettengill’s choreography is by turns lyrical, erotic, and archly funny.
At SPACE, the performers’ movement work will play out on both the stage and the floor, occasionally among the audience, and sometimes as shadow work behind a screen. Set design, by Dana Hopkins, includes an opportunity for audience engagement in conjuring Mira’s world.
As for the audience experiencing Mira’s story, Bouchard explains that the production’s headphones and multiple audio choices are meant to cultivate a sense of being alone while also being among others — the same feeling that haunts the alienated Mira. “You’re together in the theater,” Bouchard says, “but having very different, personalized experiences.” This headphone-induced isolation might invite loneliness, she says, but it might also result in unexpected moments of connection — for example, when two theater-goers listening to the same track suddenly make eye contact, and briefly acknowledge their separate but shared experiences.
Audience members may have different interpretations of Mira’s ultimate choice in the story, Bouchard says, and she hopes the show will spur dynamic post-theater conversations about self, relationships, and society. “What’s good for the self and the community are not necessarily the same thing,” says Bouchard. MIRA might encourage us, she suggests, “to consider the judgments we pass on both each other and on ourselves.”
MIRA: A Movement Performance by Bare Portland | Directed by Tarra Bouchard and choreographed by Liz Pettengill; inspired by Tennessee Williams | SPACE, 538 Congress St, Portland | October 18-20 | Thu-Sat 8 pm | $12-15 | www.bareportland.org