600 Highwaymen’s The Record has earned rave reviews from the New York Times and also capped off my night of theater-binging. Billed as ‘part theater, part dance, part group hallucination – vivid human assembly on an epic scale,’ the piece brings together 45 people who interact with each other for 61 minutes on a bare wooden stage topped with a billowing white sheet.
I hesitate to call the 45 people in the show ‘actors’ or ‘dancers’ because they’re really neither. Even the show page’s description of them as ‘strangers’ feels wrong. As creators Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone explain in a talk-back session, they cast the show using friends and co-workers, some of whom also brought their families along. Also, the people in the show are decidedly not dancers. One is a heavily pregnant woman, another an elderly man who kind of reminded me of Filch from the Harry Potter, and there are several children. It really is a ‘record’ of people of different ages, sizes, races, and class. And there isn’t really much in the way of dance moves either. There’s plenty of running, standing, posing, and hand motions, and probably the most coordinated moment of the piece is when the actors line up in two lines, face each other, and run quickly towards each other.
This is part of the reason why I left feeling like I had been somewhat misled by The Record‘s description. I expected either of two things: 1) this would be a movement-filled dance piece about modern life and they way we interact with each other or 2) the 45 people would literally be ‘strangers,’ having just met before the show, and somehow they’d be able to make a comprehensive from close to no experience or training (which Silverstone explained in the talk-back was the original inspiration for the show).
The Record does have elements of the first expectation. The show’s movement mimics the way that we often move about our daily lives. We rush from point to point, constantly surrounded by people, often making little marks on their lives (a service transaction between customer and employee, for example, or taking a seat on the subway that someone else really wanted), but we hardly ever acknowledge each other’s existence. We continue to act independently. And sometimes our paths are intercepted by someone else, if only briefly. The Record aims to display this type of movement, but also to defy it. The cast continuously stop in their tracks to stare out at the audience, making us aware of each other, acknowledging out presence, and provoking us into some type of forged community.
But while the idea behind The Record is provocative, I hardly felt engaged with the piece. There was little to keep me excited or interested in the piece once its aim was clear. The only unifying part of the show was the overwhelming communal feeling from the audience (or at least the people around) that was hoping for something more. And while Christopher Isherwood’s sublime experience of the show, that it opens us to the awareness that we share our lives with millions of people, makes sense to me, I can’t say it was similarly felt.
Of course, you, dear reader, may see for yourself and catch The Record before UTR ends on Sunday.