A Conversation Without Talking

Content for Label Grey Arts

Inspired by Franz Xaver Kroetz’s “Request Concert” (“Wunschkonzert”), director Miriam Ibrahim’s “Piece/Peace of Mine” looks at suicide, repression, and the mundane banalities that shape everyday life.

Kroetz’s “Request Concert” emphasizes the tidy nature of the act of suicide when it’s provoked by the slavery of production. Through a highly realistic portrayal of repetitive, everyday activities unfolding in real time in an ordinary evening of the life of the only character—Fraulein Rasch—Kroetz highlights the structural resemblance of the suicide act to the life that provokes it, marking it as a definitive descent into the prison of an entirely ordered life. With ritualistic care, and caution, Rasch comes home from work, prepares her dinner, watches television, knots her carpet, smokes cigarettes, cleanses herself with lengthy precision, prepares her bed, takes a sleeping pill, and without breaking the bored regularity of her actions, counts the remaining sleeping pills and takes them. The play concludes with the faintest look of interest rising to her face.

Ibrahim questions the central premise laid down by Kroetz in her characteristic minimalist, abstract, and conceptual approach to Kroetz’s themes.  Working with the concepts of precision, repetitiveness, cleansing, silence, and ordered ritual action, she emphasizes not the naturalized exhibition of these actions in her conception but instead asks: what is Rasch thinking in the moments of inactivity punctuating her repetitive actions? Is the suicide act just an assimilation into the mundane regularity of existence, marking the inescapability of a repressed life? Or can it signal a kind of freedom, a bitter-sweet emancipation from the submission to an ordered existence?

Staged in a stark black space marked only by white tape — regulating the physical and mental space of Rasch’s life — the play’s character interacts with water, ice, paper, and the tape itself. Addressing the tension between thinking and acting, the production explores Rausch’s internal battle with her own thoughts through placing, movement, and space. Through the character’s interaction with the environment housing her, our performer, Ibrahim, physicalizes degrees of anxiety in a mental struggle with the idea of rebellion: one that cannot quite be brought to external manifestation, to a breaking of habit, ritual, and order, to a moment of action.

The production’s attention to texture, color, and lighting—both on stage, and in the seats of uneven height in which the audience sit—emanate the feeling of the piece, exploring the multi-faceted capacity of a space to function in a theatrical work, a theme which Label Gray Arts often takes up in its work. The collective’s first production, “Sterntaler,” was a movement theater piece in which the central character interacts viscerally with the space housing the performance, which ultimately almost takes on the role of a character itself. Staged in multiple locations, the performance changed each time, becoming reflexive to the environment in which it was manifested.

“Piece/Peace of Mine” continues exploring the function of music within a dramatic context, a feature also of “Sterntaler.” Where “Sterntaler” features a violinist who’s penetrating accompaniment mirrored the central character’s emotions, “Piece/Peace of Mine” utilizes a sole string instrument to question the liminal dimensions of spaces housing the actor, the performance, and the audience.  In this way, each of the collective’s works presents a meta-narrative, raising probing questions that reflect on, and play with the function and capabilities of the basic elements of theater itself: from the actors, to the visual and sonorous landscape in which they perform, and ultimately the audience itself.

The show’s director Miriam Ibrahim notes,

“In Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, he says that one “attends” a play, one doesn’t merely “watch” it. To me, theater is like a conversation, a conversation without talking.”

“Piece/Peace of Mine” invites you to join the conversation.