A play without players : Performa 13 and Gabriel Lester “Super-Sargasso Sea (phantom play #1)”

Gabriel Lester at Performa 13

Gabriel Lester at Performa 13

Theater without actors, a play without a plot, a cast only in absence, and action through inanimate light and sound.

Gabriel Lester’s “Super Sargasso-Sea (phantom play #1)” is theater distanced from life to expand its medium-specific conventions: a perverse theater perpetuating its own extinction, only to emerge again as a new “theaterless theater”. No remorse necessary, because Lester fills this actorless void with a sculptural set activated by light and sound.

Lester’s loose plot is printed in the playbill. During this 30-minute play, a scientist, his fiancee, their firstborn, a dog, and a cat together experience great misfortune: the young couple dies in successive fatal accidents, leaving their firstborn (named “Creature”) an orphan. Characters are represented in absence strictly through light and sound interacting on a sculptural stage. Viewers are given authority regarding the plot because without overt actors progressing the scenes through active dialogue, action is regarded on a completely individual level; all will experience this play in different ways because without hard-edged parameters, we have choices.

It is important for art to break through its own parameters. This is reflective of societal flux ever expanding in search of a perfect plateau. Once art is removed from assumptions it enters a space of unknown. To some, this expanse of possibilities is self-affirmative. However, not all want choice when it comes to engaging with entertainment. In the playbill Adam Kleinmen insightfully writes:

“Thinking is hard. The brain links inputs to ideas, but needs to do so quickly. If not, you’ll overload. Snap judgments follow preconceived notions so as to limit processing power to get you through the day.”

Traditionally plays guide us towards meaning through preconceived notions. We know what we will experience from the play’s categorized genre. The meaning in Lester’s play is not so obvious, and it may not even have a symbolic truth value. It may be an exercise in pushing theater to its limits. Read into this play as much as you would like; experience it as a visual metaphor for the paragraph long plot synopsis in the play bill, or, enjoy it on technical grounds as an aesthetic journey through sounds and light. This play expands genre barriers, and it does so enchantingly.

Learn more about Performa 13.

Learn more about Gabriel Lester.

Gabriel Lester "Super-Sargasso Sea (phantom play #1)

Gabriel Lester “Super-Sargasso Sea (phantom play #1)


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