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Philadelphia Fringe Fest 2013 – “Gibberish French” and coffee in The Society


—>Alaina talks about a Fringe Fest presented play with no understandable words in it but with a very big understandable point about conformity and non-conformists. –the artblog editors—————————>

As the audience streams in, three men inhabit a scene of perfect, insular order: one sits with his head sunk in his hands, one leans his elbows on a chest-high shelf of pristine white coffee cups, chewing gum and checking his watch, and a third sits polishing the cups one by one, his hands steeped in absent deliberation. From the show’s first moments, Philippe (John Fjelnseth Brungot), Jean-Claude (Bartek Kaminski) and Louis (Trond Fausa Aurvåg) radiate a consummate physical presence that renders every moment of the 65-minute long “gibberish French” performance completely lucid.

“The Society” finds the teabag. Photo by Knut Bry

Jo Strømgren, founder of Norway’s Jo Strømgren Kompani and director of “The Society,” a show that has toured worldwide before appearing at the Painted Bride as part of this year’s Presented Fringe festival, is known for developing shows performed in made-up languages that sound just like real ones from across the globe. Audiences for “The Society” will catch strains of French, English and Chinese blended into a performance where spectacle, sound and gesture mean just as much as the actors’ voices.

Philippe, Jean-Claude and Louis seem content with a reverent series of rituals that surround a coffee grinder, a silver carafe and 83 coffee cups on a series of square shelves that dominate center stage. But things begin to go awry when Louis realizes that that the top left corner is empty. His shaking hand pushes a small drawer closed with just enough time for us to hear a porcelain rattle from within. The trio breaks its coffee-worship to search for the missing cup, and is horrified to find a used teabag inside it.

To get to the bottom of this unthinkable treason, the trio leaps into a series of outlandish tortures and threats, some disingenuous, some self-inflicted, and some accidental. But the plot only thickens when sets of red chopsticks appear from within the shelves. The deceptively simple set gives up a world of secrets as it becomes more and more disheveled: a “Chinese infiltration” has taken hold.

In a series of exquisite physical interludes, including everything from a Kung-Fu parody to clowning to a sort of ballroom dance with cups and saucers, Strømgren’s choreography is full of languid bodies in sculptural lifts and perfect synchronicity beset by hilarious individual nuance and shifting power dynamics.

Photo by Knut Bry
“The Society” Photo by Knut Bry

The actors themselves contribute a meticulous soundscape (the spritz of a water bottle, the tiny squeak of cloth on a coffee cup) that melds with Lars Årdal’s immersive sound design. Peter Löchstöer’s costumes have secrets of their own when the sweat-soaked jackets and ties come off.

Strømgren, writer, director, choreographer and set designer all in one, begins with a reverently sniffed teabag in a world full of coffee. But “The Society” asks much bigger questions about the perceived dangers of social sedition, what we’ll do to find it and trample it, and the sometimes-chilling, sometimes-hilarious consequences of what might happen if we chose to revel in sedition’s wake instead.

Jo Strømgren Kompani’s The Society is running at the Painted Bride Art Center at 230 Vine Street through September 8th at 2pm. For tickets, visit the FringeArts website.