Duane Cooper and Blake Habermann
Dutch Kills Theater Company
There is a moment early on in Solitary where the audience is confronted with the unnamed protagonist's method of dealing with his confinement being upturned. It's a simple thing, but one that throws the entire situation into stark relief and is also the moment that marks the genius of both the performance and the work as a whole.
Duane Cooper plays a man in solitary confinement, his world created from the performance space with a simple pair of boxes and a chair, to represent the cot and toilet in his cell. He wakes, urinates, makes his bed, then eats, reads and exercises, with a seeming order, from which he derives some clear structure and calm. This is represented in detail and hammers home the monotony of filling time in captivity. However, a change in guard breaks his routine, which begins a spiral of frustration, violence and disruption.
The compact performance space of the Assembly's Powder Room suits the close confines of the piece and the performance was strong enough that not even the bleed-through of some sound from outside the venue could detract attention from the stage. Under Blake Habermann's direction, Cooper does sterling work as he, grimly and wordlessly, goes about his day. We learn little about the inmate, other than a brief acknowledgement of a past relationship outside of the prison. We don't know his crime, or even the system and country he is imprisoned in; the company may be American, but this is a universal story. The result is that it's impossible not to connect and relate with this man, to suffer the pain at his confinement and feel some level of anxiety as his walls begin to close in around him. Literally so, through some ingenious use of simple props and movement.
However this is not a one-man show as there are four other cast members, two male, two female, who stand in as guards, walls, memories, hallucinations and even part of the cell at various parts of the performance. Tantalisingly, this works as a metaphor both for the separation from people outside, through Cooper's lack of contact with others, and also the system holding him literally in place. Right through to the end, the title holds apt in more ways than one and speaks volumes about the lack of humanity in putting someone in a cage.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan