The acquisition of language is one of the great philosophical problems: It is impossible to go from not having it to having it without presupposing it. Think of the stereotypical cave man grunting a grunt that means "food." How can he ever tell the other cavemen that the grunt "means" anything, without presupposing the idea that his signals and sounds can mean something?
In presenting Kaspar, the titular character of Peter Handke's play, each of Sophie Hinderberger's movements is full of linguistically weighted significance.
Based on the story of a boy who showed up out of the woods one day and could only say "I want to be a person like somebody else was once," the play plays with the ways that sentences build on one another, the way that one sentence is never enough, that it immediately requires a response, immediately delineates a needy self (I want) which is situated in time (was once) and a social world (somebody else). Hinderberger (CP's "Best Actress" in 2013) is, as usual, astounding in the part. She moves awkwardly—one would say unhumanly—in gangly reaching fits and starts until her sentence starts to define her. She is caught in a tangle of cords. She falls, all the while bombarded by other people talking in videos on screens.
The use of video allows Lola B. Pierson to be as much auteur as stage director. She enlisted dozens of local artists—such as Eze Jackson, Temple Crocker, Cricket Arrison, Connor Kizer, Stephen Nunns, Alan Resnik, Dina Kelberman (of CP ‘s Important Comics), and Erin Gleeson (erstwhile CP calendar editor)—to record scenes in a wide variety of genres ranging from a Law and Order parody to a porn video, each of which further investigates the sentence-ness of Kaspar's sentence. The videos, and text messages which the company sends to your phone throughout the play, turn this minimalist play into a typically Acmean (they deserve an adjective now) bout of maximalist head-fuckery. And the porno, directed by Pierson and featuring EMP Collective's Carly Bales and erstwhile CP contributor Rjyan Kidwell actually manages to provide a real shock and not just schlock.
For the first half of the play, Hinderberger is the only non-filmed person on the stage as she feels her way through her sentence and the temporal maze of voices. In the second half, she is able to speak other sentences, and her tone becomes reflective as the character, Kaspar, now has an arsenal of sentences to defend herself against the rawness of the prelinguistic world that the first half of the play depicted so well. There are also three other actors (Sam Nelson, Rena Brault, and Naomi Kline) up in the second-story part of St. Mark's Lutheran Evangelical Church, each another aspect of Kaspar's self.
It's hard to make a successful—and fun—play about the problems of language, and it's easy to see how some dour German production of Kaspar could be a real drag. But Pierson and Hinderberger are such a formidable team—brilliant together, really—that they easily turn philosophy into art, while making the most of the questions at hand.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that in northern climes, the first word spoken by humans was the hard and sharp "Aidez!" (help me!), while in warmer regions it was the soft and luxurious "aimez!" (love me!). Hinderberger's tone conveys the full range of life between the two poles as she utters her single sentence, but, by the end of the play, the audience is resting clearly, and lovingly, in the southern climes.Copyright © 2015, Baltimore City Paper