Co-created by performer Duane Cooper and director Blake Habermann, Solitary is a lesson that you don’t need huge set design to create an expressionist atmosphere of madness: a simple piece of rope is enough. An exciting piece of physical theatre that shows mastery of acting and direction.
Fresh from a run in New York, Dutch Kills Theatre’s Solitary tells the story of a man (amongst many, in prisons across America) being incarcerated in a solitary cell. We’re given no specifics of the crime or the man – the purely movement-led performance focuses on the effects that being in prison (and especially in solitary) does to people, their psyche and even life after prison.
In the first part, the audience is caught in the repetitive daily schedule of the prison life – where only the faces of the guards change but the movements are the same. The routines are perfected to the last detail. Duane Cooper’s impressive portrayal of madness is as one would expect to see in a film, where the editing process allows for added special effects and enhancements. But while Solitary creates the claustrophobic atmosphere for Duane Cooper’s character with the aforementioned ropes, it does not create that same encroaching feeling for the audience – which is my only complaint.
As it nears the end, Solitary rebukes the hope that after prison, life gets significantly better. The experience marks an individual permanently and constrains their future, acting much like the rope that was used to represent the walls in the first part. It is a bond that cannot be broken, it seems. But as Dutch Kills Theatre and director Blake Habermann (for a lot the praise is due to detailed, creative direction) shine a light on this issue of after-care, or lack thereof, with this physical theatre masterpiece – they’ll hopefully lead the way towards more discussion of it. Whole-heartedly recommended.