QUORUM opening night review

Russ Bickerstaff of the Shepherd Express writes:

Quorum and Silence and Frustration

By Russ Bickerstaff

The silence in a room can only be defined by those who aren’t speaking. There’s a certain kind of silence that only happens in committee. There’s a special kind of silence that only happens in congress. There’s a certain kind of silence that only happens in a theater. There’s a special kind of silence that only happens at a Theatre Gigante show.
It’s a play called Quorum. It starts in a silence as Mark Anderson walks out of a door and into the room upstairs at Plymouth Church. A tall man walks into a room with folding tables and folding chairs and proceeds to find the most comfortable place in which to sit. He’s sitting in silence at the beginning of a show he has written. In writing it, he’s said everything that will be said in the play. As it runs, he says very little. There’s something sweetly symbolic that can be read into that. So much can be read into Quorum. Stripped of any context, we have a group of people discussing matters in folding chairs and folding tables. We see them try to relate to each other in a maddeningly awkward crawl of progression. There’s a great deal of time spent in the early going deciding whether or not all of the people in the room even want to be in a group at all. All we can do is laugh.
There’s an arch in the ceiling of the room the play is being presented in. It does subtly crazy things with the acoustics in the room that amplify the awkwardness and discomfort of the piece itself. The piece itself is about people and the decisions they make. As I say, there’s no context for it. We don’t know why these people are in this room or why they’ve decided to be so formal with each other. We don’t know why there’s coffee in the second act and we don’t know why Bo Johnson is wearing a lab coat while playing a guy named Sidney who evidently excellent penmanship.
We don’t know why Vivian is so pushy and manipulative. She’s played by Isabelle Kralj with strange modulations and manipulations. She silent through some of the show too. In character her silence is a lot more overpowering than Mark Anderson’s. It’s positively overwhelming.
We know that Michael Stebbins is playing a character named Abner who wants to be a part of the group without being part of the group. He’s a gruff presence onstage and we don’t know why. We know that he’s particularly upset with Vivian and the way she’s treating others, but we don’t know exactly how that conflict is going to play-out.
We don’t know why Sylvia seems like such a nice person, but Leslie Fitzwater does an excellent job of being nice in the role. She’s very quiet and considerate, but there’s a down side to that: she seems to be avoiding confrontation. That makes the group dynamic a bit awkward.
We don’t know how Martin’s dream of wheat and bread and butter means, but since it’s delivered through the voice and distinctive stage presence of Ron Scot Fry, we know that it sounds important without sounding ominous. (Ron Scot Fry is good at that sort of thing. He’s a really satisfyingly complementary presence to Fitzwater as Sylvia.)
We don’t know why Jocelyn Ridgely is the last to show up. She’s playing a character named Roberta. We don’t know why Roberta is there but we know that she seems to want to leave. She seems incapable of leaving.
There’s no question that there’s frustration over the fact that nothing seems to be getting done for all those reasons why nothing seems to be getting done. It’s an election year. I read about politics. I read about the complete lack of coherent government here and elsewhere. It’s frustrating. With Mark Anderson’s Quorum, Theatre Gigante does the unthinkable: it makes that kind of frustration fun to watch. In allowing us to laugh at in the abstract, maybe it can help us understand it in a way that might allow us to make some kind of progress. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something just watching a show that is fun because it’s frustrating.
But I don’t know why.
Anyway. It’s a fun show and a delightful way to ease up on the frustration of another presidential election. Anderson’s script is quite clever.