Sunday, September 19, 2010

At the End You Come Out Yourself; Stop Sign Language

“I too am minute as ashes with the fine
grain of my feeling running crisscross into dark
where I sight you enviously at the blurred roots
and the ospreys play there, they have second sight
like sponges, loving both canal and river,
commuting as you on water, fearful of this group
of buildings, even going underground.
You like it because your eyes see further,
even as a rock quarry is graceful
with your initials as the sorrowful poem’s end.”
-Barbara Guest, “Even Ovid”

When news of the accident in the newly thawing winter/spring meant Stop Sign Language was postponed, a number of us in town were disappointed, myself included.  Eleni Papaleonardos is a force of nature, a rock in this theater community, an asset to any city she’d choose to work in, and as close to a sure sign of quality as Columbus theater has.  The delay took no sting out of the production, trust me.  It’s already been a great year for her, from directing Available Light Theater’s terrific Pride and Prejudice with the largest crowds in the company’s history to that point (possibly since exceeded by Merrily We Roll Along?) , though her Beatrice in Actors Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing, and now, this monologue about dyslexia, how we learn, and the nature of language and communication that left my heart sailing, Stop Sign Language.

When I say monologue, I may be doing the show a disservice, because you could just as easily call it a ballet.  Every movement, every reaching for a prop, every slow extension of the right foot, in imbued with this richness, both metaphorical and emotional, you can mark what’s being discussed – childhood, the awakening of self, primitive cultures – just through body language, aided by Carrie Cox of the OSU Department of Dance’s subtle lighting.  Set design adds a different, complicating layer, a cross between a black box Spalding Grey piece – a chair and not much else for much of it – and a Sesame Street segment, with a creamy blue foam-core letter, variously p, q, d, and b, and stark back projections by Christian Faur.

But the words are what we’re there for, right?  Right.  And they’re what really drives this, a riveting examination of growing up in a bilingual household (English and Greek) and the difficulties dyslexia presented in learning the way she was told she should learn.  Or at least there’s where it starts. 

It never surrenders into self-pity or let’s-all-hold-hands platitudes and goes all the way back to the invention of language and how it’s all one great abstraction after another.  From the first image, which I don’t want to spoil, how we fit ourselves and what we want to say into forms that often seem arbitrary at best is at the heart of this piece.  I would’ve liked to have seen a few more risks taken from the direction, which is perfectly serviceable but could’ve gone more abstract and attention-grabbing.  But if that’s the only complaint I can make about something, I clearly liked it quite a bit.

There’s no way I can adequately describe this that’s going to make it sound as funny or as moving as it was, do yourself a favor and go see it, through next weekend.