THEATER REVIEW: Despite uneven story, one-man ‘umbilical’ delivers

“the umbilical point” / Solaris, Hudson

FOR SOME OF US in a greedy audience, the best kind of theater is the kind that grabs us by the collar and shakes us until we dump a flood of metaphors from every pore. Not all of those specific metaphors start with the playwright or the actors or the director. Some are just ours, and that is better than okay.

But before the flood, there must be actor-director-playwright genius to grab eyes and minds and paste them firmly in the play. The team of Gabriel Rodriguez (actor/author) and David Anderson (director) knows how. They get a firm grip on us and shake.

One of director Anderson’s favorite devices is to abjure the amateurish custom of “the curtain speech.” He thrusts the audience into the play immediately upon their entry.

For “the umbilical point,” the place to be thrust has dark purple fabric draped randomly from ceiling to floor. At the center, hunches a pre-human “thing” swathed in yards of gauzy primordial black. Its stillness sometimes releases a small, subtle float, and its mouth and tongue are eerily alive. (My personal metaphorical dump called it “zygote,” and 10 southern senators immediately gave it personhood.)

Rodriguez’ extraordinary body-skills are everywhere, from a float in amniotic fluid to black-“catness” and tree-growth and extraordinary “childness.” (“Mime,” “dance,” etc. are somehow inadequate terms for what he does.) Some of it seems directly imported from acting class, but the actor uses it so well that one may be reminded of why the exercises are in acting class in the first place.

Subtle gong, drum, and primitive flute sounds quietly support the stage.

The play is short. The actor’s beautiful, dimpled, intensely alive child, Pablo, and his sister Teeka, with her mystery and her belly-wisdom, probably deserve more than this 60 minutes. (Surely they are one person, and that person is… oh, never mind. Go see.)

Unfortunately, late in the play, what is a transformative necessity for the plot becomes a huge letdown. Lots of “being” (child, cat, tree, orchestra, rhymer, fountain, rapper) turns into listless “telling.” Energy drops. We mostly lose our beloved Pablo. It feels as if Rodriguez has suddenly tired of the creative process and Anderson has departed for Japan. (Yes but, yes but… how does the grown-up body of Pablo want to move? He has a lovely poetic bomb in there.)

In other words, this play has a structural problem. This reviewer can think of no solution, though these creators probably can.

According to Walking-the-dog Theater policy, admission to the play is free—or five dollars, or five thousand dollars, as you choose. (Actually, they suggest a $10- to $30-dollar donation.) If that causes you to wonder at the price tag on a brutal, brain-bashing professional football game or an ear-shattering pop “music concert” (would Rodriguez say they are us?), try to resist creeping misanthropy and go for “the umbilical point” at 360 Warren Street in Hudson. It runs through November 30. See details at www.wtdtheater.org.

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