Fragments: Materializing Thought
Walking into the eerie and mysteriously ethereal atmosphere of Fragments at the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard (JKB) Theater last Thursday was an experience I had only in dreams. The black box was dark with an elevated, small, circular stage in the middle of the room where eight people lay on their sides. Tattooed with silver and brown shapes dripping from their wrists, each individual was dressed in a construction-worker jumpsuit. Near each figure was an identical, open book hanging from the ceiling by a string attached to the text’s spine. Smoke filled the center of the stage around which piles of broken slabs of concrete-looking material lined the area between passive audience and active artists, breaking the boundary between observers and the observed.
Written by playwright Edward Albee, the piece drew upon controversial topics such as race, politics and domestic violence but also addressed the most commonly disturbing aspects of the human condition such as death and aging. As stated in the director’s note, Albee believed in the power of exchanging narratives to connect people, but even more, to serve as a basic need for survival. The eight nameless characters each had a story to tell about their lives in relation to others.
Viewers were introduced to the first scene by one fellow who was kneeling and reading from one of the hanging books. This scene began the endless dialogue. Through a flurry of voices and seemingly senseless speech, the commencement of the play directly plunged audience members into the kinds of meta-questions that arise when a performance identifies itself as unreal phenomena; made to be watched, not believed. Due to this, the beginning scene left me quite confused – its abstract nature was like a theatrical inception of sorts where the very scene viewers are watching is the reenactment of a dream one of the characters is telling. It took me a bit to understand how the relationships between each character would progress, but as an observer I soon found the plot line.
The first few stories were about pets dying and letting go of the burdens caused by witnessing death, but as the night progressed, each story intensified, including concerns such as aging alone, racial profiling, psychological preoccupations and misplaced sexual lust. Some of the characters’ stories created a lump in my throat, for they were jarring, intense and had the emotional power to attach to audience members’ personal memories. This was, however, the intention of Albee.
After all, it is these stories that allow us to connect with each other. When we understand that we all hold boxes full of secret, vulnerable memories, it becomes much easier to share them. By sharing and listening, we can start to accept the depths of others, understanding that the mind is a vast and complicated mystery. This environment was beautifully captured by the actors, set, and costume design. My experience that Thursday was a materialization of thought, as if walking into someone’s mind, exploring the delicate and intimate psychological complexities that reside within us all.