Go Deeper

Reaction: No Dice

Posted September 5th, 2007

Anneliese Van Arsdale and Ellery Biddle on No Dice

After the directors of Nature Theater of Oklahoma serve you a complimentary ham sandwich and Dr. Pepper, their show, No Dice, begins with three actors who are absolutely overflowing with silliness—they don costumes that appear to have been pulled out of a high school drama club costume closet or a play chest belonging to a family of oversized children. They speak in accents that are sometimes Scottish, German, maybe French, and maybe cockney—but with no attempt at accuracy. They romp about stage making bizarre gestures and facial expressions while speaking banal bits and pieces of conversation with strange, exaggerated intonations of a melodrama full of likes, and uhs, and mid-sentence corrections and redirections.

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Somehow this overflow of what mostly seems like meaningless drivel continually becomes something familiar-sounding and at sometimes, interesting. When their accents disappear, their conversations suddenly seem normal.

“Are you drunk?”
“I wouldn’t say drunk — but I’ve had a 2 or 3 glasses of wine.”
“I love the way alcohol makes me feel.”

Hmm. No Dice was created using eleven hours of recorded telephone conversations between the artists and their families and friends. Conversations were cut, edited, and re-ordered to create an aural script that is literally piped into the actors’ ears through ipod earbuds. While the script is pre- set, it only exists in audio—rather than memorizing their lines, the performers listen to the script as they perform, though they appear to be performing as if from a memorized script.

In conjunction with their aural script, the cast also works from a series of set physical gestures designed to modify certain words and phrases. These gestures look like a cross between those of a factory worker on an assembly line looking a wrist watch and out-of-date dance moves that my mom might perform at a wedding.

In lieu of a dramatic structure or plot, the actors improvise their objectives and motivations as they busy themselves within the multi-task of listening, speaking, gesturing, dancing, and interacting with one another. Perhaps the thread of an objective that links the performance together is the ongoing struggle to communicate with each other, and to say something that is coherent and meaningful—as well as the struggle to connect with the audience, and tell a “story”—they sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, sometimes consciously, sometimes accidentally.

Remarkably, No Dice does manage to sort things out and connect as a cast, and with most of the audience. At the end of the show, each actor chooses an audience member to whom he or she makes a long, serious, almost eerily sincere speech about their hopes for the future, bearing a stark contrast to their earlier personas.

In the end, the show rewinds to the beginning of its conceit and returns to its origin, leaving the audience listening to one of their original recordings in darkness.