Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Definition of Man
Nikki Muller and Jason Rosario
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
The last two people on earth sit in a wasteland – a cardboard desert. With suggestions of Nietzsche’s nihilism and Becket’s irreverent timing, the show shines for its unique mastery of form. A philosophical tour de force, a physical concerto, a confessional, nostalgic memorial to humanity, ruminating on past love and the promise of each other – this piece is a true gem.
Definition of Man’s script poses existential questions balanced by moving personal stories. It showcases acrobatic movement and grounded, intelligent actors. It centres around the last two people on earth, people who used to be in love with each other, whose love has evolved as their world has disintegrated. With references to many great minds and personal stories of the past, we learn about humanity from its remnants.
A push and pull, the performers wind and unwind around each other like a swing in a strong wind. A mixture of Mai Tui, Droznin, weight sharing and floor yoga, we’re treated to movement as stationary art, object, dance, emotion and intimacy. Performers Nikki Muller and Jason Rosario express their emotional needs through physical action. They use the heightened attention of difficult poses to add intensity to their performance. Shifting to form a graceful, athletic sculpture, Muller is suspended for several minutes in contemplation of existence while dangling precariously off Rosario’s neck.
As the show intensifies, so does the physical exertion. The performers play with duration, allowing the difficulty of those motions to heighten their performance. However, more thought could be given to fully embodying the movements that are concentrated in one part of the body and creating a more nuanced transition between poses. Near the end of the show, the performers get into a rhythm, a flow, concocting a dizzying array of bodies, rotating across, around and through each other like an intricate and ancient puzzle.
The show pairs elevated prose with personal stories. It makes the language more accessible. Between singing Faust and quoting Stanislavski, there are stories about family from Puerto Rico and Germany. Gender and race are implicit in their personal narratives. It could feel unfamiliar, watching bodies move in such creative ways, with planned out, eloquent and heartbreaking stories, but the almost surreal nature of this landscape forms a tighter bond of solidarity and empathy between the audience and the performers. There is an intimacy, taking in something so personal. They look out onto an unseen desert and even look at us as remnants of humanity. In multiple languages, we hear their stories, their philosophies, their notions and their reality of love.
A rumination on love, otherness and existence, the play uses physical movement to create emotional ties between the performers and the audience. Definition of Man is the rare show that will make you think and will make you cry. This is simply a beautiful piece.