by Margret Echeverria
DOT: A Silent Comedy is written and performed by Hope Salas who you may remember created DOT video shorts for us during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. DOT is a clown in the French tradition who we saw living out the strange and terrifying scenes of our lives as they radically transformed during our struggle to survive in 2020, 2021 and now 2022. (Will there ever be an end to this thing?) She let us into her loneliness and fear so that we did not feel quite so alone or fearful knowing she was seeing us and feeling us. This weekend, at The Hole in The Wall theater in New Britain Connecticut, we can see an intimate and beautiful performance of the story of DOT’s life. She begins in a very silent and still space, crouched behind a big empty round bowl that covers all but her head and feet. Her face is neutral, then curious, then frightened, then determined as she steps carefully forward, shielded by the giant bowl on feet in shoes that are too big. I felt as though I was witnessing a birth of an innocent soul and the quick contamination of that being as she learns and accepts duality as reality. The first separation that becomes an instant burden is her sex. The bowl is flipped around and the serenity of its openness is replaced by something very funny, yet poignant (I’m not going to spoil it). The western expectations of women are heaped upon our heroine and that wide-eyed child disappears into the hurry-up-and-wait fight to be noticed, accepted and approved. We are invited to participate in her wedding ceremony as members of the wedding party. We laugh because it is all so absurd, these rites of passage we often force on ourselves no matter if they are appropriate to our spirits or true desires. We cry with her when the happily ever after she is promised does not ever actually arrive.
Hope Salas is a machine in that her body’s strength, flexibility and stamina are a wonder. But every bit of this machine is, in fact, a tender and vulnerable human body. As I watched her move, my own body empathized, aching, sweating and tightening while she killed me softly with her mortal instrument and then released me with well-timed giggles. Her deep understanding of the human condition takes me beyond where Camus once abandoned me; she reminds us that there is joy and that there is, indeed, Hope. In our life’s journey, we are each of us seduced from our innocence out of non-duality by those who train us to be a part of society. Our elders do this to us because they believe it is necessary that we learn through this socialization to survive in the cold harsh world. DOT wants to be the best student of life she can be. She follows the rules with zeal, yet she is betrayed at every turn. She tries harder and harder. She can’t hide in her clown trunk for very long. She has to come out and put on some make up, slip into a dress, be in the sun, eat a sandwich and – Oh, yes! – be a mother. Of course. Why would a woman do anything else? We’re not just here to play, Dear Girl. Director Jenny Lee Mitchell allows DOT to almost lull us into the comfort of solidarity in the struggle. Yes, this is how it is. There is nothing we can do about it. Just surrender to the pain and let’s not focus on it.
*insert sound of needle ripped from the vinyl record here*
DOT has a spark that sputters on and gets stronger as the little gold flecks ignite, the arc widens, connection is made and the audience may be a little shocked. She fights back. She breaks the rules, makes mistakes and forgives herself. She speaks out just a little. (Let us not confuse the French Clown with the silent French Mime, even if the show title is misleading). DOT asks members of the audience for help once again as she rebels. She puts her infant daughter – a plastic baby doll she has brought to theatrical life – in the arms of a man two rows behind me and my daughter. He is completely enrolled, continuing to rock the doll gently and taking guidance from his female date on how to hold the “baby” just right, even when the spotlight leaves him and returns to the stage where DOT dances and fights out her aggravation, grief and rage. She is blazing a new trail for herself and the next generation. We see her begin to soften. That wide-eyed open child returns into the matured woman she has become. She falls to the ground, rolls her torso up and over her head exposing the soles of her feet, one of which is covered in a well-worn bandage. She has finally surrendered to her spirit – her love – and she is free. And so are we, if we so choose.
Free yourself. Go to Connecticut. Smell some trees. And go see DOT: A Silent Comedy.
DOT: A SILENT COMEDY written and performed by Hope Salas, directed by Jenny Lee Mitchell.
Stage management by Becca Silbert, Script development by Elena Zucker, Music composition by Estelle Bajou, Sound design by Becca Silbert, Lighting design by Hilary Lang, Paper marche artistry by Lisa Greene.
Limited Run weekends through June 19. Hole in the Wall Theater, 116 Main Street, New Britain, CT 06051. Get tickets here or call 860 229 3049. Run time: 90 minutes, no intermission.