Single Carrot stretches toward 'Other Shore'

Play by Nobel laureate examines society, morality, Buddhism

December 16, 2010|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

It says a lot that rehearsals for Single Carrot Theatre's latest production began back in August.

"The Other Shore," by Gao Xingjian, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature, presents formidable challenges. This is deep avant-garde territory, unconcerned with such niceties as plot or character, and it asks a lot of performers, who must find a way to connect with an audience while exploring complex issues of philosophy.

Even at what seems to be its simplest, as when the actors play lighthearted games with rope, the play is burrowing into the questions of what makes us human, how humans make a society, how society can make humans conform or rebel. Hanging over all else is the ultimate question of death and what, if anything, awaits us on the "other shore."

The playwright's fusion of religious thinking, especially Buddhist concepts of virtue and nirvana, with political notions helps to explain why this work was banned by the Chinese government in 1986. (Gao subsequently went into exile in the West.) Local audiences are apt to find it far from controversial, though perhaps opaque and even a little boring.

Single Carrot has certainly poured a great deal of effort into the staging, directed and designed by J. Buck Jabaily. The barefoot cast — at 12 strong, the largest the company has yet assembled — embraces the material wholeheartedly, including its improvisatory elements. The actors succeed in creating an often riveting form of choreography and ceremony (music, candles and incense play significant roles).

Heading the cohesive ensemble is Dennis Elkins, the first Equity member to appear with the company. He makes a telling, often quite riveting guide through the play's emotional and intellectual thickets.

Get more information about "The Other Shore" at Single Carrot Theatre

"The Other Shore" runs through Jan. 16 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. $10 to $20. Call 443-844-9253 or go to

—Tim Smith

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