By Marcina Zaccaria . . .
In a ritual-based world where theater is a healing practice, Four Saints in Three Acts might be considered a whirly, spiritual pathway, dense with repetition.
Armed with the necessity of understanding, Gertrude Stein may have tasked the performers in the original 1928 opera to interrogate how we persist and exist in the world. In the original production, a Black choir brought out the richness of language in song. Should it be the individual performer’s aim to similarly reach for the heavens while searching for meaning in rhythm and poetry?
If so, no one seems more prepared to do this than David Greenspan. In Wartime Canteen for a New Era, performed outdoors in October, 2020, Greenspan let song win over the adversity of the health crisis, gathering New Yorkers to listen to pleasant tunes in an outdoor setting. While it is clear that this performer believes in a potential of the body, there is an ease about channeling a higher power in Four Saints in Three Acts. Greenspan appears with a pointed finger, placing his arm up to recognize the crowd. It’s humble and articulate.
Unlike the jubilant feeling in the air from the Wartime Canteen show, Greenspan is almost cautious in Four Saints in Three Acts. He brings the power of the Saints to him, casting out a gaze while gliding over the words with ascending and descending pitch. The strength of the performance is knowing that there’s still more poetry to be found, deeply rooted in each phrase and gesture.
The truth is, Four Saints in Three Acts has a repetition that is mind boggling. Without reliance on a linear plot, how might one decipher through the endless calling for Saint Therese? Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction relies on staging that looks like Tai Chi. The theater is alive in a very special way at the Doxsee, located in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. With each gesture, one almost feels moved, blessed with the mystery of saints revealed in a complete, yet subtle way. The authentic practice of the art of speaking is revered.
Refreshing is Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction, which steers away from wonder or indignation, guiding us to a knowing place. This spare, soulful set includes a shiny, black platform and an Oriental rug. The Scenic and Lighting Design by Yuki Nakase Link adds a warm, pink glow to the enclosed environment. Changes are subtle.
Four Saints in Three Acts. Through October 9 at The Doxsee at Target Margin Theater (232 52nd Street, at Fourth Avenue; Sunset Park, Brooklyn). www.lortel.org/four-saints-in-three-acts
Photos: Steven Pisano