Rank Stranger

A ferocious energy possesses writer-performer Stanya Kahn. Eyes flashing, mouth straining, feet skittering, she seems to move even when she's still and to speak even when she's silent. The muscle and might of her onstage presence greatly camouflage the spottiness of her material. In her new work, Rank Stranger, Kahn conjures four characters (three women and a man) quite alone in the world, yet linked by worries, poverty, and the specter of the Gulf War. Each person— wry Dolores, nervous Lennie, restless Jeannie, and manic veteran Larry— takes a turn addressing their fears and desires in loosely structured soliloquies. These speeches have occasional moments of humor and poignance— as when Larry's pal, a fellow soldier whose death Larry witnesses, appears on the street and burbles, "Yes, I'm fine and— check it out— I'm getting really good at being appropriate!" But the monologues tend to mire themselves in wordplay, non sequiturs, and description, failing to elucidate character or ideas as well as they ought.

Luckily, Kahn has considerable nonverbal gifts. She uses a precise movement lexicon to differentiate and deepen her characters, even as it interconnects them. Kahn's dance background reveals itself in her skill at combining awkwardness and fluidity, gracelessness and agility. A leaden step transforms into a skip, a clumsy slip into a spin. Her physicality layers her characters in ways her words don't— lending each figure vulnerability, uncertainty, breadth. Kahn's body fills the spaces in her speech, closing what Larry calls "the gap between what is happening now and what can be said about what is happening now."

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