Seat of Perception

Extra-cultural reviews by synaesthetes, symbolists, and strangers.

“We Are But Dust”, by the Santa Claus of existentialism

I’ve gone back to see Isaac Gardner’s one-man play “We Are But Dust” three times now, and every time, I am constantly amazed by how phenomenally each psychological twist and tactic opens up a plethora of philosophical intricacies using such deceptively simple symbols in wildly inventive conjunction with each other.

Even before the show begins, a sound-scape descends upon the audience, tuning our ears to the non-verbal language that will carry us through the poly-leveled interactive narrative of this tale. It’s difficult to describe anything in this play without giving away the joyous surprises it contains. At the end of the most recent performance, the person to the right of me was laughing hysterically, and the person to my left was crying tears of comprehension, but mentioning the incredible range of emotions and concepts triggered by experiencing this immersing show doesn’t really do it justice. Simply being there is a great way to get to know a new friend or romantic interest you bring along, a lovely way to see a new side of a long-time co-conspirator. Just being there is like opening a gift you didn’t know you were hoping for. I want to put a ribbon on the whole evening and give it to everyone I know.

Can a thing be simultaneously joyous, sparse, and maximalist? Now I say, yes! The interactive inversion of expectations and possibilities for interpretation in the play “We Are But Dust” keep reminding me of a combination of Samuel Beckett’s writing and the revolutionary implications of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, the first massively accessible film to combine a completely real world with a communally shared artistic reality. While there are no cartoons in this play, there is a phenomenal interplay between the meta-levels of the ‘reality’ of the characters, that of the audience, and our roles in the perceptive landscapes of others.

In one scene, an old man enters a room full of clocks. We the audience can’t see the clocks, but we know they are there. The old man communicates the clock-ness of the space to us clearly without using any words. He lifts his hand away from a wall in such a way that the area beneath it suddenly becomes strongly inhabited by the essence of a clock. We can almost see it rise out of the empty wall into our palpable shared reality. Many of the clocks are not working. We all know this, and it does not immediately occur to us to question whether the old man is mad, or whether the clocks are there at all. The old man walks over to one time-piece (in this time-based piece) and picks it up, winds it… A ticking begins. We accept it as the ticking clock and at the same time we see that the old man is creating the ticking sound with a clacker in his right hand. As he goes around the room, winding clocks and creating impressively illustrative poly-rhythms, the room comes to life before our very ears.

Is this old man aware that he is making the clocks’ ticks? Is he insane, and if so, is his delusion a beautiful and life-enriching poem? Are the clocks real and we simply aren’t in a place to see them without a leap of belief? To what extent can we accept the old man’s world? After all, there is no old man. We know in our brains that he is a young man. And his world is increasingly becoming our world. We so willingly opened our world to encompass his, and this automatic acceptance is full of questions that now become ours.

Before we have time to internally spiral through winding wonderings about whether the old man is actually fixing imaginary time-markers in an empty room, he transforms an audience-member into a clock. Amazing, I know, but he ‘really’ does! With one simple sound-effect and through continuity of newly-created symbolic motions, the significance of the time-narrative is transformed into an entirely participatory realm and a new series of definitions and translations.

This is just one very tiny example out of many lovely shifts that exist in this sweet and surprisingly intricate play. There are surprises and all sorts of lovely sights and sounds and worlds, but above all else, going to see this play is really FUN! So RSVP, bring a friend, bring a lover, bring a grin, and be ready to laugh and play in the wonderful world of Isaac Gardner.

For more information about the play, visit:

The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios

244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY


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This entry was posted on October 6, 2012 by in Theater and tagged , , , .

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