The Moving Company has a big year coming up. It'll be the first collaborative theater company to take residence in the Dowling Studio as part of the Guthrie's new Ninth Floor Initiative, creating a major new work that will premiere next spring on the McGuire Proscenium Stage. At the moment, however, the group is presenting a quiet, expertly acted little show at the Lab Theater in the North Loop.
Every Sentence Is for the Birds presents a scenario resembling the true story of Victor, the so-called "Wild Boy of Aveyron," a child who was found at the turn of the 19th century in the French woods, where he had lived independently for years. In 1970, filmmaker François Truffaut told Victor's story in L'Enfant Sauvage; Dominique Serrand and Nathan Keepers cite Truffaut among the inspirations for their new play.
In the production, directed by Serrand, Keepers stars as a wild boy who's discovered by anthropologist Katherine (Suzanne Warmanen, who collaborated with Keepers and Serrand to write the script). Katherine gently introduces the boy to civilization — on a set, by Serrand, that elegantly bridges indoor and outdoor — and the young man gradually develops a poise far beyond what Victor ever achieved. With little plot beyond this progression, Every Sentence becomes a meditation on what it means to be human.
A fully grown man playing a feral, prepubescent boy? Yes, there is some disbelief to suspend, but Keepers' performance is so completely realized that the potential awkwardness is eclipsed by fascination with his achievement. From the moment of his wonderfully disconcerting entrance, he conveys a sense of profound foreignness. Warm and patient, Warmanen treats his training as a series of invitations that he finds himself accepting.
Given how compelling Keepers is as the wordless boy, it's surprising how much talking there is in the play. Katherine opens the show with a long monologue about the relationship between art and science, and the boy — who calls himself "Oh," having assumed that his mentor's frequent exclamation must refer to him — becomes quite loquacious himself by the play's conclusion. The extended remarks directed to the audience feel unnecessary in a production filled with eloquent gestures.
Many tellings of Victor's story, including Truffaut's film, sound a cautionary note about the dangers civilized society posed to the vulnerable child. That danger is only rhetorically suggested in Every Sentence, which portrays Oh's progress as a journey of self-discovery. We watch Keepers recapitulate human history, from experimentation with fire to the cultivation of style and intellect. If the play continued, we can only imagine that Oh would go on to found his own theater company.