Theater review: Moving Company's 'Speechless' has a lot to say about grief and healing

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Annie Galloway

Why aren’t there more plays about grief? The ancient Greeks took it on, but with occasional exceptions—David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, for instance—playwrights today seem to think that grief is just a little too static for a satisfying evening at the theater.

In Speechless, the Moving Company addresses grief in a way you’ve never seen before, unless you happened to catch the inaugural run last fall. The artists have deepened and remounted the acclaimed piece.

Aptly staged in the cavernous box of the Lab Theater, Speechless presents us with five mourners: Heidi Bakke, Camille Chong Yuanya Horstmann, Masanari Kawahara, Nathan Keepers, and Dominique Serrand. They open the show by breaking into tears, beginning a 75-minute journey into the light.

(Cast changes since 2017 include Serrand, rarely seen onstage in recent years, stepping in for Steven Epp, who’s on Once-ler duty in the Children’s Theatre’s Lorax. Epp, Keepers, and Serrand are credited with conceiving the show, which was collaboratively created by the company.)

The title is not false advertising: The five performers do not speak, at least not in conventional language. As they go through the motions of receiving an urn, then sitting down to a funereal meal, the soundtrack is provided by contemplative music: Brahms, Elgar, Korngold, Schubert, Tchaikovsky. One of the many things that feels fresh about Speechless is that it’s a performance set to classical music, with comedic elements where the music isn’t the butt of the joke: It’s in on it.

The comedy comes from the mourners’ mishaps as they go about their rites: broken plates, burned potatoes. Serrand directs, and sustains a delicately balanced tone of laughter through tears, the way you smile when a funeral organist flubs a note.

Eventually it’s time to clean up and move forward, and the process of mopping up the ashes (one convention Speechless does not defy is that cremains appearing onstage will inevitably spill) begins a series of magical developments leading to a transformation. The Moving Company has never been afraid to embrace the elements, and even evaporation becomes part of this show’s magic.

Speechless is appealingly understated. These characters aren’t demanding attention, they’re asking for community. We don’t know what’s been lost, but we see what remains, and a heartwarming final sequence poetically suggests what might be reborn.

Well, we might have an inkling of what’s been lost. In this near-wordless production, we do see one word: HOPE, written on a shroud draped beneath the urn and accompanied by a Statue of Liberty candle that keeps going out. Speechless may lead you to contemplate a personal loss, but it also indicates what, collectively, we can’t afford to lose.

Speechless
The Lab Theater
700 N. First St., Minneapolis
612-333-7977; through June 10


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