Generic Ensemble Company’s Collection
GenEnCo uses an eclectic mix of objects to explore how relics of relationships past keep us connected to love
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 1, 2017
A Monopoly board. A tennis racquet. A ukulele. A Jeremy Lin jersey. A vintage cloche hat. A vinyl LP of Hubert Laws' Romeo & Juliet. A trombone. These and numerous other items are tucked among the densely packed wooden slats – some vertical, some leaning – of Elizabeth McClellan and Suzanne Wyss' set for Collection. The random variety of the objects amid the materials supporting them suggest a neglected attic in slow-motion collapse. But in the brief time it takes for the five performers in this Generic Ensemble Company production to present this work, we learn that these disparate articles share something in common – something precious, in fact: All are relics of relationships past, souvenirs of a time – perhaps only a moment – when two hearts connected.
Director Laura J. Khalil conceived of Collection as a means of investigating our penchant for holding on to things acquired during these connections, to puzzle out our need to carry these often cheap and trivial objects from place to place, through move and move, all our lives. So in the show, periodically one of the items among the slats will be retrieved by an ensemble member, who will then share a story about it – how it came into this person's possession, what significance came with it, what memories it holds for the person who kept it. In most of these narrative nuggets (scripted by the ensemble based on responses to a survey that Khalil conducted), the item has little monetary value – a rainbow bracelet from Wal-Mart, an old set of Pogs, a knit cap – but the relationship between this person and that one imbues it with worth, a worth almost beyond measure. In the one story that extends across several episodes – the history of a romance between two women identified only as A and B – a blue plastic bottle cap is charged with so much of the women's emotional bond that one chooses to keep it even after the other has broken up with her. Playing the rejected lover, Marina Weikel takes the bottle cap as if almost against her will, a mix of fascination and confusion playing across her face, like she's regarding an object of great magic.
And Collection seeks to persuade us that these mementos do hold magic: the magic to conjure moments and feelings from the past. They're talismans for the love in our lives, maintaining potent connections to the points when we learned something meaningful about caring for or being cared for by someone else. We feel the enchantment in these items more in some stories than others. An earnestness to the overall production at times muffles the personal connection of narrator to object, and some performers project a reserve that keeps their account of an object's meaning at an emotional remove. But when a performer surrenders to the beating heart inside one of these tales, as when Annie Kim Hedrick turns the clock back to middle school to recount her phone call to a boy that she was crushing on, magic flows from the stage; her face is a 100-watt bulb of youthful excited hope as her crush picks up the phone, and when he lets her know he's just not that into her – Dillon Yruegas, nailing that eye-rolling teen "whatever" vibe – the slow fall of her features and dimming of her joy is a heartbreaker. Hedrick also shines in one of several tales of "micro-love affairs," encounters that should be too brief to have much emotional resonance and yet somehow do. This one involves two women in separate cars, headed to different destinations but both lost on the same road, who decide to help each other find their way. Hedrick's account of them driving side by side for miles, communicating through open windows, captures the strange sweetness of finding camaraderie late at night on a lonely road, and you don't blame her for keeping the map given to her by this stranger/friend.
In the end, this story and all the stories stand on their own, despite the connective tissue of talismanic objects. Each is an independent tale of human connection, which makes Collection just that: an assemblage of anecdotes. In it, almost everyone will find something to relate to, but how much of the whole affects may depend on the number and kinds of keepsakes that are stored in your own personal attic.
CollectionDougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd., www.genenco.org
Through Sept. 9
Running time: 50 min.