SALT LAKE CITY — Originally created in 2008 and premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Innovation – A Physical Theatre Piece is just that: physical. Using movement set to music in place of dialogue, creator and director Jared Larkin blends classical elements of clowning, mime, commedia dell’arte, and modern dance to tell a sweet story about two women as they grow from childhood through all the milestones and pitfalls of adulthood.
The 15-person cast, led by Felicia Anderton and Maggie Haight, cleverly use frames, planks of wood, strips of fabric, small props, minor costume changes, and their own bodies to create locales ranging from the schoolyard to a hospital, elevators, cars, a bowling alley, an amusement park, restaurants, and the content of dreams. The storytelling utilizes the entirety of the stage of the Courage Theatre at Westminster College’s Jewett Center, creating moments of broad humor as well as poignant intimacy.
Larkin’s direction is bold, using every resource to surprise and engage his audience. Anderton and Haight grow up before the audience’s eyes, supported by the strong ensemble to fashion the environments and myriad of people that shape their enduring friendship. The themes are big and heady, dealing with the nature of love, mortality, loss and rebirth while remaining grounded in the reality of the relationship of the two protagonists. I initially felt that the movement wasn’t clear enough to accomplish the storytelling without dialogue, but the performance hit its stride after about 15 minutes, and I found myself absorbed in the journey being shown. Yet, I felt that the transitions occasionally stilted the flow of the story and some of the costume changes hindered rather than helped the character progression. This was frustrating because I would find myself taken out of the moment and that loss of connection—however brief—was jarring. I was entertained and I followed the story, but I did not find anything new in the piece. The plot was predictable and helped a great deal by the music. The movement was often casual, but had moments of good theatricality and interest.
It was a pleasant evening of theatre, but nothing groundbreaking. Overall, Innovation is a touching tale told in an unconventional way by a passionate company.