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Biography of Physical Sensation

A re-creation of a person's sensory experiences that shouldn't be missed

Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., Oct. 22, 2010

Arts Review

Biography of Physical Sensation

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 474-7886 www.rubberrep.blogspot.com

Through Oct. 30
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

A disclaimer of some importance: This was the most difficult review I've ever had to write and the hardest it's ever been to sit through a whole play. More on that later.

Gagging on peas. Getting dysentery in India. Jumping off cars in Xalapa and skinning my arm. Playing the banjo for hours and listening to Beethoven on Christmas and brief, explosive sexual encounters. All of these experiences have been a part of my life, and well I may tell of them in as exacting detail as possible.

Yet there are the big stars in the skies of our lives and the little ones, too – memories that we string into constellations, important patterns, life stories, and those that have no definitive connection to anything else and yet are also forever a part of your life. Learning to tie your shoes. The way your mother made meat loaf. And so on.

Rubber Repertory's Biography of Physical Sensation chronicles the life of one woman, Jamie Damon, by looking across the starry night of her life and plucking instances from the monumental and insignificant and re-creating them for the audience to experience.

Entering the Salvage Vanguard stage, which looks like a garage sale crossed with a kindergarten classroom, there is only a hint of the sensation symphony that is to come. Chairs are placed in a circle and are demarcated between big, medium, and little – the larger your chair, the more intense the sensations the company shares with you are.

The re-creation of experiences vary from the tasting of various foods and smelling of odors from Damon's life to the more extreme: the simulation of a motorcycle accident, of being shot in the leg with a BB gun, and what I experienced.

Returning to my disclaimer that this was the most difficult play I ever had to sit through: That's because of the sensation that I participated in. I was reliving an experience involving some sort of traumatic accident with a horse. I carried a heavy backpack and weights around the stage, trying to follow a string on the ground while wearing glasses that made seeing anything impossible. Once I returned to my seat, I was asked to eat four saltine crackers at once, and while I was attempting to do so an anesthetic was rubbed across my lips and gums, paper towels were stuffed up my nose, a chin strap was placed so I could barely move my jaw, a hideous mask was placed over my head, a brace was applied to my neck, some sort of weight was applied to the small of my back, and my legs had to be propped up at an uncomfortable angle for the next hour of the show.

Subsequently, as you might surmise, my perception of the show was quite different than others. I could see out of my mask only by tilting my head at a very difficult angle. And yet this made my impression of the sensations of the show all the more acute, taking in what I could from within the constricting contraption I was subjected to.

Rubber Repertory brings the sensations directly to the audience with Biography. The show is a blend of participation and observation as the different technicians in the cast create different experiences simultaneously across the stage. Without having the time to have every audience member enact every sensation, Biography's construct created a shared experience across the night's participants: people gasping at what was about to transpire to some blindfolded soul.

Even though I missed chunks of the show and was subject to intense discomfort, I wouldn't have traded my seat for anyone else's. And the show is so open-ended and dependent on its audience members' creations and reactions that you can see completely different shows every night. What's wonderful about Rubber Repertory is that they take the concepts, the tenets, the expectations of theatre, and blow them out of the water. There is no context to the sensations from Jamie Damon's life nor should there be. This is a wholly different type of sharing – and an experience you shouldn't miss.

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