The plot is bone simple, but its reverberations are subtle, strange, and unsettling — just as Kroetz's stunted characters prove remarkably present while rarely managing more than a few brusque words or phrases. Whole scenes come wrapped in silences, long pauses measuring the distance between characters while binding them together. In a way, silence is the play's principal subject: the silence of moral judgment, the absence (despite the swift trade here in the Commandments and the passing of sentences) of any voice or say beyond the inexorable force of life itself.
In that emptiness opened up so effectively in Farmyard — and echoed in the gentle bleakness of the surrounding country (beautifully evoked in James Flair and Paul Rasmussen's scenic design, as well as Alex Lopez's radiant lighting scheme) — it's life that finally defines and bridges the void. And life converges in Beppi, whose name seems to mark her perpetual child status even in the midst of sexual awakening and motherhood, with all the innocent and anarchic force any farmyard could hope to contain. Wolff's supple, perfectly assured performance is the natural standout in a cast composed of strong, focused portrayals all around.
Wilkins's sharp staging adds a unique contribution to the play's unsettling ambiguity by disrupting its heavy silences with a jarringly lush, sophisticated set of Shirley Horn torch songs. For all its in-your-face effect, the music makes a subtle point in the precise way it both works and doesn't work: We can't help aligning the words and ambience with the action, even while recognizing the absurdity of the match. But then what exactly is so absurd? In the end the songs perfectly measure, manipulate, and throw back our own programming, and still — it's impossible not to add — how fitting that out of absolute darkness comes this beautiful, seemingly otherworldly paean to life. *
JUAN GELION DANCES FOR THE SUN
Through April 8
Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
Traveling Jewish Theatre
470 Florida, SF
Through April 1
Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.
Last Planet Theatre
351 Turk, SF