Physical theater is Doniel Soto’s primary game, though he clearly loves language as well. And his previous three shows at The Space—a converted industrial metal shed alongside the light rail tracks on R Street near 25th—have focused on Big Topics like history, mythology, the creation of language and madness in the artistic mind.Soto’s new show—an ensemble piece titled Sorta … —tackles subjects and situations that are lighter, more contemporary and closer to home. It’s largely about 20-somethings yakking on their cell phones (in their cars and everywhere else), working out in gyms, using ATMs and, inevitably, falling in and out of love. Some of the topics are a little too easy—cell phone self-indulgence is so rampant that a lampoon is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. But this reviewer’s guess is that these sometimes-broad sketches could build bridges with local audiences who are still catching up with the theatrical style that Soto, who is good at what he does, advocates.
The 10 cast members appear as clowns: baggy pants, crazy hair, exaggerated gestures. Clowning, after all, is one of the better-established branches of the style interests of Soto. (Draw your own conclusions as to what sort of fools we modern mortals be.)
Mixed in are generous collages of nonsense language. Quoting from the program notes: “Mon o see no blay nah teetahtah hoosy bayda fro?” You’ll also hear vocal percussion and wordless singing.
The best scenes are the big ones—like the opener, in which the clowns sing “Om!” and then go into a soulful, sorta-African vocal sequence, or a hockey-like game involving four-wheeled squarish boards and boomerang-like paddles, or the finale, which features nautical invocations in body language.
The ensemble—Mary Falconer, Dana Hudson, Diedre Kennelly, Somer Lowery, Doniella Maher, Michael McCleary, Samantha Ostermiller, Tess Perez, Stephanie Rosscup and Ed Tracey—put in individual and duo/trio appearances as well. Tracey, with his tall frame and features that hint at Native American heritage, puts in a good solo in a sketch titled “Statue.”
The other element in play is the optimistic gutsiness of the show—utilizing minimal resources, taking some chances. It’s like attending an event for hand-built ultra-light aircraft: Not all of the inventions work equally well, but it’s rewarding to keep your eyes open for the ones that soar.