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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Soup and Art Partnered at the Zoo

Author: Crystalyn Radcliffe

What is reality? Are we alone in the universe? What is the meaning of life? What is the difference between soup and art?

Many of these universal questions were brought to light in senior Sara Garland's one-woman show last weekend. A collage of humanity, the piece brought together a diversity of perspectives: a streetwise hooker; an opulent wife, tragically bored with everything including her extramarital affair; a rebellious, precocious runaway girl; a ditzy, ambitious young woman with bad career luck; and the narrator, a bag lady who allegedly was a consultant for extraterrestrial investigation on earth. Speaking and acting without interruption for over an hour, Garland's performance left even the audience mentally fatigued.

Garland and senior Lindsay Haynes' collaborative work on their independent project, entitled "Soup and Art" went up last weekend in the Hepburn Zoo. The stage design was a triangular arrangement composed of a chair, a circular podium and a rectangular box, props which Garland efficiently used to signal changes in setting and character.

Garland also employed body language and posture as well as tone of voice and facial expression to indicate differences in characters. The persona of the narrator was assumed by a pronounced slouch and shuffling walk. Other characters also had similar defining attributes. These acting techniques were crucial in keeping the audience informed about who was speaking.

Other devices used to signal changes in scene and character were the lighting and sound. Lighting often helped to direct attention to specific parts of the stage, separating the other elements in view of the audience from the scene that they were supposed to be watching. For instance, when Garland was sitting in a beauty salon the light was focused directly upon her corner of the stage with the chair.

The only character that inhabited the entire stage was the narrator. She was seen standing on the circular podium, crouching on the rectangular box and sitting in the chair, signaling the amalgomation of all characters into one, and more symbolically, of all humanity as one. This stage directing was consistent with the script in which the narrator has flashes of other people's lives, similar to channel surfing on television. This change in station was often signaled by a static sound from the back of the theater.

Garland's costume was a simple pair of black pants and sweater, with her hair tied up in a ponytail. Haynes explained the costume choice by saying that, "We approached this play deciding not to hide that it was Sara playing the role. It didn't make sense for her to be dressed as the main character (the bag lady) because it wouldn't have allowed for easy scene changes. We were looking for simplicity and versatility." While this allowed her to be on stage without costume changes, it left something to be desired in the aesthetics of the play. Her traditional garb did not correspond with any of her characters and left a void between appearance and what the audience was being asked to believe.

When asked about the selection of the piece Garland said, "Lindsay and I both wanted to do something we'd never done before prior to graduation. She'd never directed and I had never done a solo performance piece. We picked 'Soup and Art' because we both fell in love with the script. The theater here has a tendency to lean towards the dark, and we thought it would be a nice change of pace to do something life affirming."

Garland's performance was impressive in its length and complication. It required an ability to alternate between personalities and language as well as an ability to respond to stimulus that was inherently non-existent. Garland often had to pretend that she was answering someone or was responding to some situation which never took place on stage.

The play was also compelling in the issues that it raised about humanity, our connections to other people, our need to understand the universe and our perception of art. While comically presented, many of these issues lie at the foundation of what makes up our society and its values.

Ultimately the show seemed to beg the question: What is the connection between life and theater? Can theater show us something about life that would typically go unnoticed or passed over? Opting for a sense of mystery, the show allowed these questions to be raised without attempting to answer them or suggesting a need to have them answered.