Review of Proximity Theatre: Desire

Face the world, face your life, be agitated by the tone, the beat, let it cause movement in your mind, movement that eventually, despite yourself, will extend to your limbs. Allow yourself to grow out, to get bigger all at once and in the presence of others. Your ears crackle at the nearness of their movement, they push the air with their presence. Like a bulldozer of gesture, slamming away atmosphere, shoving themselves forward through time. They are six. The curator of their movements, the collaborator of their timing introduces them to us, and then she returns to usher them off their stage and into our memories. Proximity Theatre is a land mass, a floating island making stops in your life, a Shangri-La, a Utopia, a tiny little place to spend fantastical brilliant time.

Proximity is a performance group in Santa Barbara, they behave like many other theatre  groups, in regards to organization. But they expose themselves in a distinctly unique and significantly personal manner with their gesture and imagination. They recently launched a new performance entitled DESIRE.

I have walked into rooms which caused me to be on edge, places populated by drunks, or wild animals, most notably a striped Hyena named Gregor in a Palm Springs zoo, that is the feeling at the foot of the stage at a Proximity performance, like a cage door is about to be opened and uncontrollable life is about to come spilling out. Proximity operates at a frequency nearing that of pureness. It’s not fear. When I was a child I stepped into my father’s wood shop and his table saw spun up, with a roaring vibration that split the air. The performers of Proximity own the room with that exact electricity. The difference is how quiet they are about it.

Their music moves like weather around the tin walls expertly arranged by Ken Urbina, the Executive Director and an anchor in their performer roster. The music holds the audience like tracks hold a train, allowing for a mostly smooth drifting, occasionally jarring journey from start to finish. Proximity utilizes six performers on stage to execute their enigmatic narrative. Kyra Lehman masterfully directs the piece as well as performs along side her collaborators. Proximity is known for its insistence on collaborative creation, every performer encouraged to perform not just as prop to another’s vision, but as author and creator of gestures. In DESIRE, like many of the companies pieces, the multi-authorship stands as a key tenant of the success of the work. The performers own their behavior rather than simply pantomiming a learned action. They move not by remote control, but by established mutual creativity. They are guided by their director but are not beholden to her. Each of them has an ownership stake, and the audience can feel that real attachment to their work.

The performance DESIRE feels like many divergent experiences and genres throughout, which of course is exactly the way the emotion desire feels. I will not interpret too closely the title and the gestures of the performers, which is the advice I give to anyone who see’s the performance. There is no cipher for the code, and while it at times will inevitably remind you of other things, the performance is its own. Let it happen to you as the performers are giving it. The time you spend watching and being there, is far too fragile and temporal to cloud with preconceived expectations.

I have seen the performance more than once, but as the saying goes you can never step into the same river twice, and so with Proximity you will be there for the performance you are present for, and that one only. If you can let go of everything else, then you will transcend into the role of a lifetime, witness to the fantastic, watcher of the wonderful, and audience to the NOW. If you are lucky, the performance happens with you, to you.

Moments become snapshots, like you are trying to burn them into your memory, details of a larger work, imprinting and sticking. Jake Himovitz has a permanently bent pinky on his right hand, I think. His energy is explosive and it felt like at times he moved from tiny hand gesture into a roof rattling air compressing expansion which changed the gravity beneath his bare feet. His knuckles go white when he leans his full weight on them and everything else on stage disappears, which is quite a trick to pull off with one bent pinky. He gets dangerously close to Gabriela London, a young veteran of Proximity, the duet the two exchange, threatens, it hurts to watch, it reminds of the worst best moment you have ever felt, they fill the stage with the scariness and safety of their physicality, it is vibrant and clear and magnetic.

Each performer in DESIRE embodies a character, undefined but separate from their peers by nothing more than a color in the dress, or vintage of their jeans. Their gestures seem to be a recipe laid out one cupful of movement at a time. Sophie Leddick another longtime collaborator plays a role, or rather wears the camouflage of an urban posh Manhattanite of the eighties.  As outwardly violent as Mr. Himovitz and Ms. London are to each other, Ms. Leddick is ten fold back in on herself, stretching every tendon to snapping point in a silent quiet brutalization of her very being. She crushes the characters soul like an imploding submarine, it is cramp inducing.  Just as the audience fears she has extended to the highest point, she lets her foot off the neck of the viewer. Her return to calm nonchalance is unnerving to say the very least.

Karina Richardson makes out with her wrist, there is no dressing that up. She stands before everyone in the room completely emotionally exposed, and makes out with her own wrist. No-one just walks away from that, no-one. Her skill and movement is only heightened by her willingness to reveal her character completely, in a way that had the entire audience stunned. 

Triple threats are traditionally the biggest trouble makers in any theatre group, Ken Urbina must bore easily because by my count he is at least a penta-threat with some real serious dad gear besides. On top of the music he viciously declares himself in the center of the stage. His work on the stage supports his fellow performers both as a backstop allowing them to shine, and as a featured performer, singing and moving with such poetry as to cause the lights to dim. At a certain moment you become very fearful that he might squeeze his own head off, succumbing to the pressure of… everything.

Throughout DESIRE the performers are moving with giant full body flailing and delicate small tight confined flutters. Each performer was as intimate with their solos as with their larger synchronized movements, which is to point out that this is a group effort, the balancing a credit to the direction. Every performer became endeared to the audience by the end, and when all is revealed, as an audience it will seem impossible not to cheer the revelation. 

Wrapping around the entire performance is the silent eye contact of Kyra Lehman. She is totally charming, she begins and ends the show with this remarkable stare, she takes her time and I would happily give her my time again. She establishes the pace at which we will all share the event, I consider this a brilliant action to look every single audience member in the eye, anonymity dissolved. This theatre company is good, they are important, and we need more from them. I grow tired of screens, I like it when actors like Kyra’s are making it happen in the same room. If you find yourself anywhere near a Proximity Theatre performance, buy two tickets and grab anyone within arms reach, you will be changed, and it will be worth it.


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