Curtain Call: "[How to] Stay Human"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Seven months ago, in the sickening thick of the current financial crisis, Available Light Theatre presented Dirty Math, its humorous, educational and thoroughly engaging economic ballet and history lesson.

Available Light long ago established itself as Central Ohio's town crier, doing their best "to make wise those who are supposed to have wisdom." In other words, "We, the people."

Their new show, [How to] Stay Human, is billed as the sequel to Dirty Math. And in some sense it is: Math asked the question, "How did we get into this fine mess?" Human asks, "So what do we do now?"

Perhaps because Math always kept an eye on explaining our present predicament, it retained a sharp focus regardless of how far back it ranged through time and circumstance.

Human, on the other hand, takes our crisis as its starting point and tends to dissipate its focus with a grab-bag of economic, cultural, environmental, attitudinal and personal approaches toward some sort of solution. Not that Human doesn't suggest a lot of good ideas, but it sometimes gets preachy in a way that Available Light usually avoids.

The cast of four, though, mostly projects excitement. They constantly amaze with their ability to deliver a complex, anthologized text without the benefit of a chronological narrative to guide them.

Michelle Schroeder gets the plum job of leading the evening's centerpiece, "The Compost Song," a clever environmental twist on "Wig in a Box" from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Acacia Duncan, Ian Short and Jordan Fehr also find the humanity amidst the history and statistics.

They can all be forgiven if they are occasionally overwhelmed by the effort "to reinvent the material basis of our civilization," in the words of journalist Alex Steffen. No one said it would be easy.

As always, Available Light marries physical movement to subject matter. They assemble and dismantle a schematic living space, draw on chalkboards and play with an actual chair as they trace the development of individualism back to the chair's invention five centuries ago.

Toward the end of [How to] Stay Human, Available Light asks the twin questions posed by feminist philosopher Judith Butler in her Precarious Life: "To what are we tied? By what are we seized?"

As we live our lives as individuals and as members of larger communities, we choose what matters enough for us to act upon. [How to] Stay Human may not seize us consistently, but it does help remind us of the strength of our connections.

"[How to] Stay Human"

When: Through Nov. 14

Where: Columbus Performing Arts Center, Discovery District