By Byrne Harrison
Duncan Pflaster's Six Silences in Three Movements, currently playing as part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's WinterFest 2011, is the most experimental of his plays that I have seen to date. In fact, it's easier to think of it as a poem with actors.
The play has a very formal structure. It features six "silences," made up of three "movements" each. Think of each silence as an act and each movement as a scene within the act. Each of the silences features a poem, followed by a traditional scene with dialogue, and ending with a stylized movement/verbal section where the characters (usually nude) talk to (or perhaps it's better to say at or around) each other in a series of non sequiturs, spoken while posing in various positions.
Within this formal structure, Pflaster's play tells the story of two couples who are neighbors and friends: Sean (Mark-Eugene Garcia) and Joanna (Susan Slotoroff), a young married couple, and Ricky (Marc Graiser) and Matt (Adam Samtur), a gay couple. Ricky and Sean are having an affair, though their partners don't know about it.
As far as story goes, that's about as much as Pflaster gives us. His play isn't about going from point A to point B. No exposed affair, no recriminations and tears, no struggle for forgiveness. Instead, he focuses on communication. Why do we have so much trouble knowing the person we are supposed to be closest to? Why do we spend so much time talking around subjects, or talking about trivial things instead of deeper issues? And even if we did talk about the meaningful issues in our lives, would anyone understand? As each of the characters says at some point in the play, "I never know what you think is important."
The play has a certain well-crafted elegance to it. The non sequitur sections are a challenge, but I suspect that's the point. There are no easy answers.
The ensemble does a good job, especially working in a non-realistic form. The poetry comes off the strongest (kudos especially to Mark-Eugene Garcia who handles it like a pro), and the actors commit themselves fully to the very stylized third movements (Adam Samtur in particular does well in these scenes). At times, however, the regular dialogue in the second movements seems a little stilted. I suspect, however, that is an intentional choice on Pflaster's part (he also directs the show) reinforcing the idea that all dialogue (on stage and in life) really just hides the important things that are being left unsaid. I must also mention Pflaster's use of music in this show. Matthew Applebaum, who collaborated with Pflaster in The Thyme of the Season, composed the music and plays during the show. He is a great addition to the play.
Since the play deals with what is left unsaid, it's no surprise that some of the strongest moments are not dialogue driven. A scene where the couples, all nude, slowly dress each other is truly beautiful, and the final moment, the couples embracing while Ricky and Sean surreptitiously hold hands, is very powerful and a perfect image for the play.
If the idea of experimental theatre makes you nervous, this may not be the play for you (chances are you would have balked at the nudity anyway). If, however, you are in the mood for something non-traditional, I suggest checking out Six Silences in Three Movements.
Six Silences in Three Movements
Written and Directed by Duncan Pflaster
Original Music Composed and Performed by Matthew Applebaum
Stage Manager/Board Op: Shawna E. Cathey
Featuring: Mark-Eugene Garcia (Sean), Susan Slotoroff (Joanna), Marc Graiser (Ricky), Adam Samtur (Matt)