What if walls could talk? Wait, that's the wrong question. Let me try again. What if walls hold the voices of the people who have lived within them? That's better.
It's this line of questioning and answering that kept me up last night. I was thinking about Murmurs, Aurelia Thierrée's semi-mad, totally magical theatrical performance, now playing in Emmett Robinson Theatre.
When I interviewed Thierrée this past April she was hesitant to describe Murmurs. "It's about the tricks," she told me. I now know why; without giving much away, the play relies heavily on magic tricks, with strings, pulleys, levers, hidden doors, and ladders launching performers across the stage.
And those walls? They're everywhere, moving across the stage, collapsing into the stage ... entirely imagined by the people on the stage. The way I see it, Murmurs has two main themes, two main queries that run through it. There's the whole, if walls could talk thing, sure, and I think, at least in the way Thierree intially presented the show to me, that's the main idea; buildings are alive, what can we learn from them?
But what stood out to me more was the second query — what if we're all absolutely, 100 percent mad? Sure, when Thierrée grabs at her hair, scrunches up her face, and looks down, shocked, to see a pair of red heels upon her feet — ones that she'd just put away — we think she may be a tad nutty. But then there's us, the audience, wondering if we're supposed to be seeing the strings that pull arms of mannequins. Are those men on stage (played by Jamie Martinez and Magnus Jakobsson) real? Are they ghosts? Are we just a bit insane, too?
The audience at last night's performance of Murmurs appeared to enjoy, and be befuddled by, what was going on on stage. There's a bit of a narrative arc; Thierrée is a woman packing her boxes, wrapping her goods in bubble wrap, and moving out of her home. Throughout the hour and 15 minutes of an almost entirely wordless play, two men follow Thierrée around — Jakobsson acts as a realtor of sorts, trying to get Thierrée to sign a piece of paper. Martinez, on the other hand, is way more fun, inviting Thierree to dance with him — atop a shipping crate, and later, a dining table.
Did I mention the scary gray-faced men? Yeah, well there are about three or four of them (it's hard to tell as Martinez and Jakobsson no doubt don the all-gray suits and face masks at some point). They serve to scare Thierrée, and more practically, to move sets and props about on stage. They're creepy as hell.
And then there's Thierrée — gorgeous, lithe, emotive. She is, for the most part, the star of the show. She is at her best when she's being coy, smirking, letting herself in on the universe's joke. You know, a kind of Cheshire cat, "We're all mad here," kind of deviousness. Thierrée's performance can get tedious, though — there are only so many times that one can convey frustration and fear with hair-grabbing and wide eyes.
The dynamic between Thierrée and Martinez was my favorite part of the show — the scene where the lights dim and Thierrée wears a string of lights around her neck, dancing on a table with Martinez, and then, magically, still dancing, but not on the table — is breathtaking and worth the price of admission. Some scenes feel like filler, especially ones that don't feature Thierrée. Just when you think you're in her head, or at least in her semi-reality, we see Jakobsson struggle with moving a dining table, Martinez aging quickly with a clock whose hand keeps spinning. What purpose do these scenes serve? Are we supposed to even be asking that question?
Murmurs first premiered in 2011, and in its sixth year, the show's set and props have seen better days. That's the thing about walls, though — they age. And with each passing year, layers are added, visible ... and not so visible. Maybe the few faults I find with the show are some of its shining moments — a peek into our minds, and the flawed realities we live each day. Murmurs conveys fear, frustration, joy, awe, and love, in one wild blur. It's the stuff we experience every day, but perhaps don't see, or even put a voice to. If walls could talk, perhaps they'd say, "What's the fuss about? We've known this all along."