33 Fainting Spells

May 13, 2004

33 Fainting Spells
On the Boards

Seattle, Washington

May 13–16, 2004

Reviewed by Sandra Kurtz


Dayna and Gaelen Hanson specialize in non-sequitur combinations. The co-directors of 33 Fainting Spells frequently mix popular culture artifacts and references to everything from classical ballet to literary theory in their works. In Our Little Sunbeam the main ingredients are Chekhov and rocket science—the early play Ivanov shares the stage with images and transcriptions from NASA space flights of the 1960s and ’70s. Sometimes arbitrary and sometimes tender, the work strays even further from conventional dance than do the Hansons’ early creations, substituting a form of kinetic theater in which the duo, along with guest performer Linas Phillips, creates shorthand characters (doubling and tripling up on roles) out of signature gestures and props.

As “Nick” Ivanov, yearning after his friend’s daughter even while his wife is dying of tuberculosis, Phillips, wearing a 1970s white disco outfit, performs a rap lounge act while the Hansons sing backup. Gaelen Hanson is a laid-back Deadhead in a leather vest as the friend, Lebedev, and a delicately sinuous wife, her tuberculosis expressed in a series of elegant contractions. Her evocation of the disease is the danciest moment in the show, as she continually twists in on herself. Dayna Hanson, as the daughter, wears a jet-black flip wig and shrugs her way through a cooled-down version of the jerk. Her duet with Phillips, playing out their tentative romance as a subdued ’60s social dance, was one moment where the various cultural references came together.

The work follows Chekhov’s overall plot, but the despair of the original translates into a more self-referential feeling as the characters wander the stage with handheld microphones, talking to themselves. Episodes from the space program are intercut with the drama, but they don’t intersect so much as coexist. The Hansons frequently juxtapose material and then leave the interpretation up to the audience, but in this case the elements are almost too disparate. There are several witty moments in Sunbeam, particularly a bizarre couples-therapy session for Ivanov and his wife, who uses an oxygen tank as a rhythm instrument to avoid hearing him, and a sequence in which they all simulate zero-gravity food preparation by dangling bread on a fishing line. However, what they’re doing here is as hard to get hold of as something floating in space.