Review: The Orchid Flotilla by Glass Half Full Theatre
by Michael Meigs
Caroline's is a world of eerie serenity.
In opening moments a mock-serious lecture about the life-cycle of orchids by an unseen Chris Gibson booms over the speakers, bizarrely accompanied by the play of shadow puppets animated on a screen at the depths of the stage by the similarly invisible Erin Meyer.
When the lights come up, ever so slowly and dimly, like the first orange peek of the sun over the edge of the world, you make out a shopping cart positioned on a raft, an awning overhead, a swirl of jetsam and flotsam collected about them.
The odd assemblage is distant from you, apparently lifeless. You see a wide featureless surface in your mind's eye, extending far beyond the blank black background of the playing space.
A foot and then a hand snake up from the cart. Like live things, they survey the ocean and seem to regard each other. Slowly, playfully, they engage in a sort of courtship dance.
Water sounds, bubbles and gulps. K. Eliot Haynes' sound design is complemented by the subtle touches of Adam Sultan's music.
Can there be any place more lonely? Any place on earth without any earth or dirt, but only discards, plastic and trash?
The human silence becomes only that much more profound as the woman survivor incorporates herself, as if flinging away her limb puppets, and begins the first of several long days we'll spend with her in her desolation.
Those who arrive expecting the busy, whimsical world of Trouble Puppetry may well be taken aback. Like that company, where she frequently appears, Caroline Reck is drawn to the darker side of human nature and the unwitting destruction we as a species may be carrying out upon ourselves. But in this wordless meditation she swims free from the familiar back-and-forth of dialogue, direct conflict and response. As the unnamed and entirely isolated protagonist, Reck is the resigned and patient inheritor of our wasteful ways.
The silence, Megan Reilly's lighting with changes that mark the passing hours of the days, Reck's unspeaking ingenuity and her longing for companionship -- all these establish a spirit of Zen-like concentration.
The Orchid Flotilla is hypnotic.
Floating trash passes by, offering unexpected treasures. Within the setting designed by Reck and Connor Hopkins, the castaway's raft can be maneuvered with parasol wind power and paddling. She and her contraption approach us physically across the playing space at the same time that they do so emotionally.
This castaway has not lost her humanity. We need no texted explanations to read her thoughts. Reck shows us, in carefully studied business, minute gestures and exquisite pauses, everything that is going on in her spirit.
The discovery of a styrofoam bust afloat amid other trash opens a clever bout of play, courtship, seduction and loss.
At intervals, always after nightfall, the faceless lecturer continues in his alternate reality instructing us about the lifecycle and adaptability of the orchid.
With no companion in that desert of water, the castaway begins to assume characteristics of those lush, tenacious plants. Rising directly into imagination, their asexual reproduction (apomixsis) becomes parthenogenesis, the equivalent transformation in animals. Gricelda Silva appears, an equally silent offspring, and that solitary raft becomes a shared universe.
Eventually, with the inevitability of the lifecycle, it will become the flotilla promised in the title.
Caroline Reck's abundant imagination is coupled with mastery of timing and expression. Silva is her counterpart both as character and as performer. There's a carefully maintained separation between the two throughout, although as with parent and child there's also mutual regard. We do not really see them side by side until the curtain call, tall and small, liberated from their hour of silence and quick to smile with pleasure at the enthusiastic applause.
2803 E Manor Rd
Austin, TX, 78722
September 4-20, 2014
Thursdays—Saturdays, 8 pm; Sundays, 6 pm
Tickets - $12-25, available online
American Sign Language Interpreted performance on 9/11
Not recommended for children under 16 due to mature subject matter.