The earplugs are the first sign that “The Hollow” isn’t what you might expect.
Trademark Theater is making available the same kinds of earplugs that local concert venues must provide patrons, and there’s a reason for that: “The Hollow” is less an evening of theater than it is a sometimes loud concert/dance hybrid not unlike the recent collaboration between Bon Iver and TU Dance. Fronted by composers Jenna Wyse and Joey Ford, a band plays while Tyler Michaels King and Emily Michaels King (who are married) perform movement that feels like both an interpretation of the music and a counterpoint to it.
Another reference point that popped into my head is the concert movie “Stop Making Sense”: partly because Tyler’s skittery, charismatic dancing occasionally recalls Talking Heads singer David Byrne, partly because Wyse, like Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth, is a small-statured, jumpsuit-clad female bass player and partly because “The Hollow” crescendos with a propulsive song that is reminiscent of the gospel-influenced “Take Me to the River” in “Stop Making Sense.” Here, the song is “Happiest Memory/Jump,” a thrilling rocker that finds the Michaels Kings emphasizing the percussive catchiness of the song by bouncing up and down in place. It’s one of the times when everyone in “The Hollow” — also including drummer Marcus Bohn, marimba player Matt Silverberg and singers Annie Schiferl, Antonia Perez and Jennifer LeDoux — is unified, and it provides the show a climax of transcendent joy.
Although “The Hollow” initially was inspired by “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” it’s now both headless and horseman-less. In fact, I didn’t detect any Washington Irving in “The Hollow,” which is more about mood than story. The first act seemed to me to express protection and cautious discovery, whereas the vibrant second section is more abandoned, highlighted by Emily’s wild and free dancing to “Caught a Thread/Reach.” The third seems wiser and more confident. (As if in tacit agreement that “The Hollow” is all of a piece, the audience I was part of did not applaud between numbers or acts. Suggested master’s thesis: How, exactly, does an audience decide when to clap or not to clap?)
Your mileage will undoubtedly vary because everything in “The Hollow,” including Karin Olson’s subtle lighting design, is so democratic. Most of the time, you could choose to look at any number of things: the trio of backup singers, the bare feet of the dancers, Wyse’s strong fingers, Silverberg’s bobbing mallets. What you focus on will inevitably influence what you make of the piece.
But an effect that we see at the beginning of “The Hollow” and again at the end — the Michaels Kings jump up but Olson cuts out the light before we see them land — feels like a metaphor for this show, which is an exciting leap into the unknown.