Honestly, the best way to review “Speechless” would not be to write about it. Instead, I would come to your house to show you the expression on my face as I left the show: beatific smile, with huge tears streaming down my cheeks.
No words are spoken in “Speechless,” but I’ll use my words to respond to this extraordinary evening of theater: It is beautiful. It is — as you’d expect from the Moving Company, which created it — moving. It is funny. And it is a hopeful response to troubled times, almost as if the creators heeded the advice from Carrie Fisher that Meryl Streep quoted at this year’s Golden Globes: “Take your broken heart and make it into art.”
The program identifies “Speechless” as a political piece, an attempt to figure out “Where does theater fit in this daily circus?” But, except for signs emblazoned with the years of upcoming elections, nothing in the piece is explicitly political (and if you want, you could probably pretend that those signs reference upcoming Olympics).
The show begins on a mostly bare stage, with a chest, a table, some coat racks and six chairs, although there are only five performers in “Speechless” (that extra chair gets used but it also seems to be inviting us into the show). The actors file in, stare at us, take their seats and begin sobbing. They are at a funeral — perhaps the funeral of the American dream.
Tiny, amazing things happen over the next 80 minutes: Rain comes from out of nowhere, a pair of pants seem to put themselves on performer Nathan Keepers (and not one leg at a time), a vibrant sand painting appears and disappears, Lady Liberty’s torch gets lit. But the most amazing thing in “Speechless” is that the five people — the others are Heidi Bakke, Holo Lue Choy, Steven Epp and Masanari Kawahara — become a community, right in front of our eyes. Plates break, tables collapse and all matter of things fall apart but the five performers hopefully struggle to reassemble their world. (One of the show’s few words is “Hope,” which is prominently displayed throughout.)
Kind of a dance piece and kind of a play, “Speechless” is performed to a soundtrack of rapturous music, including one of the most-guaranteed-to-make-you-cry pieces in the classical canon, Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” The play has an impact similar to a piece of beautiful music like Elgar’s, in that it seems to reach a part of your brain that is purely emotional, rather than rational.
It’s not a preachy play or a prescriptive one. Mostly, the performers in “Speechless” devote themselves to doing what they can to help one another heal: They hold each other. They question each other (speechlessly). And they comfort each other. They don’t pretend to know how to fix the “daily circus” but one thing they make clear: Words are not doing the trick.
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