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THEATER REVIEW: Voyage of personal exploration becomes a tour de force

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The Lost Frontier of America/Space 360/Hudson

IN A REVIEW of Walking the dog Theater a few years ago I noted the impact of David Anderson’s gaze — the gaze with which the actor impales his audiences and connects with other actors. It is pure. It is free of blur and garbage.

In “The Lost Frontier of America,” the unnamed character (whom I shall call “David’”) turns the gaze on himself with the aid of Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. There results a struggle to sort out a self from junk thinking and junk culture, from friends and acquaintances, from sages and saints — and from audiences.

David enters a diner pursued by demanding others, those for whom he adopts multiple personae in order to accommodate their expectations. (“Hell is other people” was a sentiment popular at one time, but not especially voiced nowadays.) He knows he has granted them the power, but they may be usurping all his self-space.

One notices that he has need of them. He isn’t eating well. He has only enough money for a cup of coffee. The waitress hands him a smidgen of sympathy and a bit of unconscious wisdom. Will he make a relationship with her? Probably not. That would create a too-comforting dependency. The waitress is effectively played by WTD newcomer, Brigitte Choura.

David wants to recover “the divine stream” in himself. It is the thing children have and the thing we love to recognize in Shakespeare, Shaw, etc. and, in this case, in Emerson. David reads aloud bits of Self-Reliance with such a searching intensity that we are compelled to hear along with him. He needs to understand the words fully — and perhaps even to recapture some of himself.

For all the beauty and excitement of this piece, there is plenty of room for backtalk. The arguments and questions are familiar. Yes, we all misunderstand and are misunderstood. How does one tell “the divine stream” from mere intellectual narcissism? Or real understanding from some culturally determined message from high art? Lots of people will quarrel with the notion that the “stream” is “divine.” (It is likely to be merely humanly intelligent, or something ordinary, couched in magnificent language.) Consistency may be foolish and “the hobgoblin of…,” and yet sometimes consistencies, even foolish ones, need to be chosen. Change must be courted, allowed, and endured; and repetition must be avoided. But no, some things need to stay the same or need repeating, and repeating, and repeating. (This “devised theater piece” for example.) And, yes, the untruth of perpetual courtesy is disgusting. Its lies can crowd out the self’s true things, and yet… well, you know.

We have been taught that the unexamined life may not be worth living. (Or maybe that breathing, eating, defecating, screwing, and reproducing are all that matters.) Anyway, David examines. His examination is a particular surgery that exposes some important guts and bones — if not a stream.

Nice, neat conclusions are not easily come by, though he makes a try at the end of the evening: He may get self-reliant and honest with us in the grocery store. If America recovers this frontier, whoa! It’s war.

“Recover” may be the wrong word, because I suspect that only the smallest percentage of Americans have ever tapped into the stream — if there is one. Among other things, it requires sorting-time. In American history, few of us have ever have had that in any great abundance. Survival is too often in the foreground.

The direction of this work by Fern Sloan and Ted Pugh is no doubt a big contributor to its impact. These three belong together, exchanging the directing, acting, and creating tasks as the impulse moves them, often mixing them together, I suspect.

Go to “The Lost Frontier of America” and get your brain waves rearranged. If you were to expect a boring philosophical treatise, you would be wrong. It is an enlightening, grief-inducing, intensely engrossing experience, and (dare I trivialize?) it is “entertaining.”

See it through November 4 at Space 360 in Hudson. Reservations at www.wtdtheater.org or 518 610-0909. An extra performance has been added to the run which now goes through Saturday, Nov 5 at 8 p. m.

Walking the dog does extraordinary work. Partake!

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