Minneapolis-based Karen Sherman’s One with Others isn’t quite theater nor quite dance. Instead, it uncomfortably blends elements of each for a result that doesn’t quite take responsibility for its own being. It’s right in the contract that she flashes on screen before the performance starts. “Don’t assume I’m having a deeply somatic experience,” it says, among other declarations relinquishing responsibility for what lies ahead. You sign it, it says below a signature line, by looking.
What follows is an occasionally charming but mostly laborious hour of performance—vignettes, really—by a trio, Sherman with Joanna Furnans and Jeffrey Wells, along with a number of props of Sherman’s own design and making. A leitmotif of Xs begins and reemerges, drawn on one of the trio’s knees, behind a patch on Sherman’s chest that she removes with a hot iron, on the plywood bindings in one sequence on Furnan’s and Wells’s hands. There is the wrestling match with a pillow that Wells punches and rolls to a litany of contemporary temptations ranging from Facebook to slashing somebody’s tires.
As they each don a wearable prop—Furnan a post protruding from her chest; Wells, a pair of boards on his thighs; and Sherman, a chest door (the latter two with latches)—they act out what might have been the most promising moment of the evening, an absurdist meta-theater of the dynamics of threesomes over an unreturned phone call. But the wit gets buried in the triviality, a bit like visiting a family that lapses into the uncomfortable privacy of their deep irritations with one another over dinner. It’s no more meaningful to an observer presented on stage than it is endured at the table.
Given Sherman’s deep bonafides in the contemporary performance world (she’s performed at the Walker Art Center, Judson Church, etc, and received a range of grants), my judgment lies in a disagreement. Artistic process, to me, is better left in the rehearsal studio. And relationships as a subject are far more interesting when cultural rather than individual. For all the effort and occasional hints of craft, “One with Others,” in the end, just doesn’t add up to much.