Review: “Susurrus”

Susurrus, Photogragh taken from DavidLeddy.com

To close out its inaugural season of cutting edge programming, ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage invites everyone to remember, record, reminisce and recollect with David Leddy’s experimental play “Susurrus.” A play without actors or a stage, “Susurrus” (pronounced sus-YOO-rus, it refers to a soft murmuring or the rustling sound of wind in trees) is a delightful and mesmerizing journey into the beauty of love, life, and melancholic loss.

Conceived by “Scotland’s hottest, edgiest young playwright,” (Sunday Times UK) “Susurrus” is part of Leddy’s Auricular Series; site specific audio works that are listened to on headphones at locations selected by the artist. The play originally premiered at the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow to wide critical acclaim. It is now on a world tour and opens on May 20 in Boston.

Instead of the traditional theatre setting, George Meachum’s 1859 Public Garden becomes the stage for “Susurrus” and a map of it drawn by Scottish illustrator Laura Molloy, who has illustrated record covers for Belle and Sebastian, becomes the playbill. As for an audience, there is no audience besides you, and every tourist and local strolling around the park (don’t stress, they’re not paying attention to you, so feel free to indulge and rejoice!).

Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this part radio play, part tour-guide, part Avant-Garde Sonic Art and part stroll in the park experience, is an evolving dialogue between Leddy’s character’s, art, nature, the built environment and the participants. As participants, one blossoms into a performance artist throughout the duration of the play.

As we “artistically develop,” we encounter sculptures or uninterrupted vistas that may provoke us to sit and contemplate the play, move around and explore the sculpture’s formal qualities. It is at this point of the performance that we begin to draw visual connections between “Susurrus” and the public art that surrounds us. In between acts (movement from one location to another), we’re serenaded with beautiful joyful, mournful and melancholic opera. These beautifully orchestrated walks also feature the music of Bjork, the popular Icelandic singer.

The unpredictable nature of “Susurrus” makes it a worthwhile and exhilarating experience strolling through the public garden. The play lasts around an hour and 20 minutes, but if you’re like me, briefly stop to look at the azaleas or admire the bark of the dawn redwoods (planted between location 2 and 3 on the “Susurrus” map) while being serenaded to beautiful harmonies.

Listening to birds chirping in the opening act in the midst of the loud sirens of fire trucks driving ,by is all part of this thrilling experience. What is even more thrilling is sitting on a bench intensely listening to Helena (Wendy Seager) telling her family story and of her time seeing a psychiatrist while a large group of tourists imitate the ducklings in Nancy Schon’s “Make Your Way for Duckings” sculpture. Every lasting second of “Susurrus” makes for an extremely memorable experience.

David Leddy crafts a refreshing “theater” experience that engages every one of our senses. Our sense of sight, smell, hearing and touch are all stimulated by the bright flora, fresh cut grass, birds chirping and the chatter of mating geese and the Public Garden map by Molloy.

Don’t worry about looking silly following a green map around the public garden, David Leddy brilliantly acknowledges this “awkwardness” when you get to the Angel Statue sculpture. If the characters in this wonderful and dazzling play can poke fun at themselves, you can too! The closing date is June 05, 2011. 

Tickets are $25, and are on sale now at www.artsemerson.org or by phone at (617) 824-8000

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