Solitary is an overtly political piece of physical theatre discussing the harsh conditions of a colossal amount of detention centres in the United States of America. The company, Dutch Kills Theatre Company worked closely with Fortune Society, an organisation based in New York that specialises in reintegration of those that are recently released from these facilities and the company used interviews with those who were formerly incarcerated as stimuli for their hour-long physical exposition.
The piece begins with a minimalistic opening scene illustrating the severely clinical and barren aspects of a typical day in the life of a prisoner. This scenario is repeated about three times, which becomes grinding for both the character and the audience, which drives home the importance of the message they are communicating through the piece. After the third reprise of this routine, the piece rapidly snowballs into a chilling and highly provocative series of uncomfortable and intense physicality, portraying the permanent psychological consequences of confinement, during and after the sentence, using elements of mime, shibari and an original soundtrack.
What Solitary lacks at certain points is momentum. For a piece that’s totally silent, it can’t really afford to be as minimalistic as it often is throughout the duration. The droning music, coupled with the isolating lighting design almost pushes the audience away from the message of the piece, which is more important than any of the bells and whistles that the team decided to drench it in.
Saying that, when it works, it totally works. The sound design that accompanies the segment involving the lead character pushing against the edges of a square created from rope by the other performers is easily the most impressive part of the piece and is a chillingly original and unique portrayal of mental illness and even claustrophobia.
Unfortunately, that and the occasional examples of live foley are the only positive things I can say about the sound design. The live singer’s wails and screams over the musique-concrete-like original score don’t add any haunting elements or emotional impact, but an invasive and off-putting wall of noise that betrays the piece more than anything.
Solitary has a lot of things going for it and presents a lot of ideas that haven’t been presented in a piece of theatre before, or at least not to my knowledge. Unfortunately, I don’t think that those new ideas are successful in what they try to provoke from the audience. And I think there are other pieces that match it in sensitivity and urgency and surpass it in momentum.
Main Image Credit: James Cuccio