Early on, the speakers in An Acorn say, “It could be that we dreamed this/It could be that we desired this/It could be that we have no idea who we are.”
It doesn’t take long to figure out that they’re talking about environmental collapse: “I want to get used to the darkness,” somebody says. Another: “The famine will set in soon.” Somebody else: “I knew that in other places the world really was on fire.”
In this online production from impel theatre, we watch a Zoom meeting between four speakers. Playwright Caridad Svich has specified that the script can be performed by three to five actors and this flexibility in the director’s assignment of lines is part of what makes An Acorn interesting: it blurs the notion of character — a strategy that made me listen more attentively — and it creates shifting literary textures.
For a long time, An Acorn also confounds expectations of narrative — “I’d like to tell you a story about your need for stories” — but it relents and the script temporarily coalesces into a tale about a person who flees the city and finds a hut in the woods. When a passerby asks if they can stop and rest, sustained dialogue emerges for the first time. But, in this production, which was directed by Kendra Jones, the voices of the two characters rotate through all four actors. For me, this strategy speaks to malleable identity and collective experience. I’m down with all of that.
Implicit in the script’s distrust of narrative is, I think, an aversion to oversimplification, to reductive lessons and solutions. Fair enough, but what does that mean about the script’s relationship to the present time, in which the climate crisis is, insistently, not abstract?
Spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the ending — kind of. I’m going to identify some plot points, but you many interpret the significance of those plot points completely differently than I do.
Svich locates An Acorn in a time when the struggle to save the planet has been lost — decisively. The speakers remember political protest — “Imagine. We were this close to changing the world”/ “I’m still angry at all of the cynical idiots” — but their historical rage (current rage for many of us) is presented as impotent, a (preordained) failure.
The journey into the woods is, if anything, less helpful. The escapee from the city finds a hut where a poet used to live. “This poet and their people did a lot of good in this hut,” we’re told. In their idyllic community, they discussed politics and literature — but only after they finished their chores. And, to the needy who passed by, they offered “food and shelter in exchange for nothing.”
“Shall we talk to each other for a while?” a speaker asks. “Shall we listen to our stories in exchange for nothing?”
This all strikes me as dopily romantic and I suspect that Svich is mocking the demand for happy endings.
The first movement of the play seems to say, “Give up. Political resistance is futile” and the second, “Forget your fuzzy green dreams of post-apocalyptic bliss.”
Rolled into all of this, I believe there’s a sincere call for more attentive listening — the form of the show provokes it — but that’s such a generic suggestion, especially these days.
For all of the fancy footwork of An Acorn, the thematic reward, for me, was minimal.
Before I close, I also want to say that the acting in this production of An Acorn is of a high standard — even though only two of the four performers were rehearsed. Director Jones chose this approach to introduce a further element of chaos and spontaneity.
Actor Blythe Haynes delivers a reasonably subtle performance but, because she emotes more deliberately than the others — because she’s made pre-determined choices — I guessed correctly that she was rehearsed. But the work from the remaining three — Ray Strachan (rehearsed), and Kelli Fox and Ntara Curry (not rehearsed) —struck me as admirably spontaneous. These results may argue in favour of minimizing rehearsal time for media performances.
I’m grateful for the actors’ work and the director’s thoughtfulness. I’m grateful to Svich’s script for giving me a mental workout. But I hoped for a lot more satisfaction.
AN ACORN By Caridad Svich. Directed by Kendra Jones. An impel theatre production. Viewed in a livestream on March 13. Two different versions are streaming on demand until April 3. In the second, the drop-in performers are Patricia Darbasie and Josh Johnston. Tickets.
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