Set in Pioneer Courthouse Square, Back to Back Theater’s “Small Metal Objects” is a fairly minimalistic piece – two guys stroll the square talking about life and their relationship. A third person comes along to interject a small amount of drama and the piece builds slightly, only to reach an anti-climax. There aren’t many highs and lows to the piece; it’s all fairly mundane. The fairly simple interaction is heightened as each actor is impeccably mic’d and the audience, equipped with high-end head phones, can hear every single word no matter where the actors are located in the square. It’s an odd experience watching a piece of theater where the actor’s audio sounds so close. In this piece this intimate audio experience is even more odd as it’s so clearly intertwined with a very public space in which the actors perform. In addition to the dialog, music is mixed over the headphones creating the real mood and the tension of the performance.
The real magic of Small Metal Objects is the slight of hand that Back to Back Theater does, duping the audience into thinking that they are the observers when in fact they are the show. Sitting in a confined and clearly marked space above the square, wearing big silver headphones, it’s the audience that are the “small metal objects”. We are the ones really on display and the actors who walk the square are nearly invisible to people who pass through the square. It’s a fairly brilliant inversion and quite effectively challenges the very notion of what performance and theater are. The downside of this is that the piece is pretty much a one trick pony. Once you realize the trick there’s little else to hang on to. There are some nuggets narratively in Small Metal Objects and the two main characters are compelling, but it has the potential to be even better. Back to Back could have delivered a one-two punch with a piece that both challenges the concept of performance and has stronger narrative elements. It’s an opportunity missed, but not enough to prevent me from recommending the show.
I applaud Back to Back Theater for so skillfully challenging the core concept of performance. Technically the show was impeccable, but with a stronger narrative it could have been even better.
For more information about Back to Back Theater’s Small Metal Objects: