Provocations don’t come much gentler than Ain Gordon’s Not What Happened, which concluded a brief run at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. A meditation on truth and historical accuracy, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, it concerns a 19th-century farmwife, Silence (Birgit Huppuch), and a woman, the Guide (Kim Martin-Cotten), who plays her at a foundering historical site. Management has encouraged the Guide to make her tour more “relevant” and “accessible.” “When did inaccessible, dark, dense, obscure, relentless, non-entertainment in America become such a bad thing?!” she grumbles.
If Gordon’s show isn’t particularly obscure or relentless, it is challenging. Both women overlap onstage, wearing identical flour-dusted aprons—a device that subtly undercuts the Guide’s performance and suggests, audaciously, that theater, no matter how generously acted and meticulously rehearsed, will never quite re-create life. There are quibbles to offer, of course. Silence’s lines could be less elliptical, Martin-Cotten’s presentation more contained, more slices of new-baked bread distributed to the audience, but the piece has concerns more significant than carbs. It asks whether human experience can ever really be fully known, captured, communicated—in the theater or outside of it. As the Guide says, her tour is “personally dense, historically minor, brutally accurate.” Then she adds, “maybe not.”