Spotlight: The Sad and Lonesome Story of What's His Name

Eric Melzer

Steve Barberio and Jon Ferguson co-direct this company-created amalgam of movement and mostly wordless drama that tells the story of our titular wanderer (Mikael Rudolph). What's His Name is a Jewish war veteran who eventually entertains elliptical notions that he is the Messiah. (I gleaned these details from the program notes; in all honesty, I had come to even more abstract conclusions before I consulted them.) Kimberly Richardson, credited as "The Girl Who Reminds Him of Gillian," and Noah Bremer, as pal Eli, guide Rudolph through his various ups and downs. These compatriots hover nearby, at times offering torment, at others blissful moments of connection. The action frequently lacks bite, but there are sublime moments as well. Rudolph does battle with his character's baggage—literally, as it turns out, in the form of an insubordinate suitcase that alternately tries to fly away when it isn't pulling itself to the ground. In scenes like that one, Rudolph projects waves of fear, confusion, and joy through simple stylized movement. A peach will become a crucial object, tauntingly eluding Rudolph's grasp. Next, he and Richardson consume it languorously while executing a slow dance to a twangy vocal number by Pablo. (Pablo also contributes atmospheric electronics, as well as a brief a capella composition that sounds like something Brian Wilson would hear in his head while trying to cogently answer an interviewer's question.) The three actors seem to lock into a romantic triangle, but before you know it, Rudolph appears to assume healing powers—which works fine until Richardson and Bremer opt to torment him with a big electric fan. As the winds pitch them around, they latch on to Rudolph's legs and he heroically drags them across the front of the stage. There's some promising stuff here about connection, dislocation, and the illusions that underpin both obscurity and greatness. Yet while all three performers are appealing and capable of communicating complicated notions with simplicity and heart, there's an inescapable apprehension that this thing needs to cook in the oven for another year—maybe two.

 
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