Theater Review - You talk too much

When films were set to the melodies of Wurlitzers and a scant few sentences of dialogue were written on intertitles, the distance between acting and dance was narrow. Mute, the silent film actors spoke through their bodies.

Fascinated by the brief interlude when actors gave up their words, the dancers of Duende Dance Theater and the actors of Fly-By Theatre came together to explore the silent era’s motion locution. Their collaboration, A World of Silents, opened last weekend. Directed by Pam Joyce and Amanda Exley Lower, the play, combined with dance and cleverly interwoven video, is more a meditation on — than a re-creation of — the era of legendary film director D.W. Griffith (Nick Stulhfaut), Charlie Chaplin (Josh Ford), Lillian Gish (Juana Farfan), Rudolph Valentino (Filipe Guedes), Mary Pickford (Brenda Norbeck) and Douglas Fairbanks (Lower).

How does the body speak? How do words move?

Lower and Norbeck give the most entertaining answers in two funny “classes” in silent acting skills. “Eyes front and to the right!” Lower instructs, and Norbeck hilariously tries to screw her eyes to both. As a posture coach, Norbeck articulates the gradations of carnal decay communicated through a slouch and an outthrust hip. Ford also portrays an amusing and credible Chaplin.

Unfortunately, Silents seems to have missed the silent era’s finest revelation: Some things are better expressed when left unsaid. Knotted into the plot is a critique of how business and big bucks corrupted the art of filmmaking. Fair enough, but the conflict is explained with dialogue as subtle as an intertitle, the worst of it coming from a jarringly portentous Griffith, whose Ku Klux Klan paean, Birth of a Nation, is glossed over in the rush to cast him as a tragic hero fighting quixotic battles against the film industry.

Somewhere in this nexus of kinesthetics and linguistics, there’s something fascinating Silents is trying to say, and perhaps, with further work, the two companies will figure out how to say it with eloquence. But like the silent actors themselves after talkies came around, this production has an awkward relationship with words.Fly-By Theatre and Duende Dance Theater’s A World of Silents continues through Oct. 10 at 7 Stages Theatre, 1105 Euclid Ave. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. $15. 404-499-8354.