Knives in Hens: The Cool Hard Stone and The Quest for More.
As directed by Paul Takacs (Dark Vanilla Jungle at HERE), the piece begins with a violent but highly charged erotic dance. This man, who is known to the town folk as Pony William, the ploughman (Shane Taylor), is newly married to a young and naive girl who is simple called ‘Young Woman’ (Robyn Kerr). To name something in this rural community is to give it power and size, and she has little to none. She is there, belonging to William almost in the same way that the ploughman owns and loves his horses. Set against a large and impressively constructed wooden wall rising above a plain brown wooden floor, designed beautifully by Steven C. Kemp (Tick, Tick,…BOOM!), the two create a thrilling stylistic dance wrapped in each other’s bodies. The dynamic is animalistic, passionate,and tied up in raw intensity. The bodies move with an edge towards aggression and domination set to a powerful and eloquent score by sound designer and composer Toby Jaguar Algya (Baghdaddy). Although the dance lasts a tad too long and the lighting could have been less straightforward and more graceful, the story that these two tell is definitive. The close proximity of the actors create an atmosphere that practically smells of the earth, soil, and their sweat. One can almost feel the warmth in the wood and the earth, while imagining the coldness of the fall air. With generally superb lighting by Dante Olivia Smith (HERE Arts’ Professor Brenner) and costumes by Sydney Gallas (Yale Rep’s Peerless), the visuals are ripe and perfectly set for the telling of this multi-dimensional fable, set precariously in a pre-industrial, God-fearing town where enlightenment is viewed with cold suspicion and burning hate.
The ‘Young Woman’ at the heart of this slow turning stone wheel, most dutifully and passionately portrayed by Kerr (Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is a curious wide-eyed believer of the town’s archaic fear-based religion. She has been carved, chiseled and chosen to be the wife of the village ploughman, Pony Williams, at a ripe young age, and has embraced her place in his home and bed. We can feel her curiosity of the world that surrounds her, and the language of the enlightened grow regardless of how hard Pony Williams tries to keep her reined in. This horse is a bit too wild, and her imagination and hunger leads her down an extraordinary country road towards articulacy, demanding to know the words of all the creations she sees about her in hopes that they will lead her towards God, or something else. Taylor (NY Fringe’s The Love Talker), as Pony Williams, is powerful and solid in the way that a man who lives connected to the earth and soil should move and be built. His voice rings with the back woods sound of a preacher, calling forth God to show his divinity, and trying to make all kneel before his glory. He uses that intensity in an attempt to chide his wife to ignore her growing inquisitiveness, and instill a fear of the learned, especially when it comes to the man that they call the Miller.