The Orchid Flotilla

Glass Half Full Theatre reveals moving artistry in silence, smallness, and subtlety

No Words but What a Story
photo courtesy of Glass Half Full Theatre

The Orchid Flotilla

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 512/474-7886
Through Sept. 20, Thu.–Sat., 8pm
Running time: 1 hr., 5 min.

The experience of entering Salvage Vanguard Theater for The Orchid Flotilla somewhat resembles going into a contemporary art museum – though it's as if you've stumbled into some secret, oft-overlooked corner of the gallery's halls, tucked away and nearly abandoned. This exhibit is curious indeed, at first calling to mind the kind of colorful, under-the-sea scene seen in Disney's The Little Mermaid. But as you inspect the very intricate collage of recycled bottles, baskets, and beach balls before you, it becomes increasingly evident that a deep ecological subtext runs beneath this surface.

Then from the shopping cart at the center of the pile emerges a foot, followed by another. The display has suddenly come to life, and though no words will be spoken for the entirety of the play (save for an old-school-style voiceover concerning the orchid's reproductive process), a story very clearly unfolds through the corporeal, gestural artistry of two women. As the performers and puppeteers who spin the evening's tale, Caroline Reck (who also conceived and directs Orchid) and Gricelda Silva are engaging, precise, and humorous. The smallest movement or facial expression contributes the subtlest nuance to the story they share.

According to Glass Half Full's website, The Orchid Flotilla "explores several convergent themes: the human capacity to overcome ecological disaster; the transformative power of companionship (real or imagined); and the usefulness and uselessness of the manufactured objects we depend upon." To be sure, the vast possibilities for inventing new uses of old objects is very much at the fore here. Reck and Silva's characters constantly find unique uses for discarded materials throughout the production, with the unusual sonic qualities of these objects captured in K. Eliot Haynes' striking sound design, one of my favorite aspects of the show. Erin Meyer's shadow puppets, visually portraying the life of the orchid to Chris Gibson's stylized narration, are detailed and whimsical. Megan Reilly's lighting is top-tier, tripping on the effervescent textiles and metallic objects that comprise the flotilla at the center of it all.

With no dialogue to speak of and no big production numbers, this may not be everyone's idea of an escapist night at the theatre. But it is a moving meditation, not only in the sense of literal movement but also in the sense of a moving experience for the observer, one that will mean something unique to each person. This is a well-conceived, well-designed, and well-executed piece of art. And like time, art is fleeting. In this case, it's also floating.

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The Orchid Flotilla, Glass Half Full Theatre, puppetry, Caroline Reck, Gricelda Silva, Chris Gibson, K. Eliot Haynes, Erin Meyer, Salvage Vanguard Theater

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