The long arty title and the vague, grand description of the show in the Under the Radar festival listing are both misleading. “The Shadow” etc. has a straightforward subject and a clear point of view: “We are a group of people with disabilities, fighting oppression and injustice,” says one of the four performers, members of the Back to Back Theatre of Australia, who are also co-authors of this hour-long play.
That they’re holding some kind of public meeting is the thin fiction of the piece, which is largely an excuse for a series of exchanges between the performers that at their best are amusing or pointed, but also often feel random or overextended.
Much of what the performers talk about is disability. They discuss disability as an identity and as a label (“Are you ok with the word neuro-diverse?” “I’m proud to be disabled. I don’t want to weave my way around the language.”) They talk about it as a series of challenges, and describe a history of attitudes and atrocities. People with disabilities have been “abandoned in forests…tied to beds…experimented on,…isolated….dehumanized, sterilized and euthanized.”
Intentionally or not, “The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes” also tests the audience’s own attitudes toward the disabled. The show begins with an exchange between Scott Price and Sarah Mainwaring in which, he tells her, “I’m going to tell you when it’s appropriate to touch someone” – and does so at great length. What he tells her is largely obvious, and felt increasingly inappropriate and absurd, which I found funny, but then wondered: Was I supposed to find it funny? Was I laughing at disabled people, or laughing with them?
Although the four speak in English, every word that the four say is subtitled.
This provokes an objection from Sarah Mainwaring. “Subtitling is offensive,” she says, because it implies they can’t be understood otherwise. A disembodied female voice – the voice of the voice recognition computer that activates the subtitling – apologizes: “I was only trying to help.” It’s one of the many moments that help establish “The Shadow…” as a conscious work of theater, if an unusual one. Althouogh there is minimal set – four chairs, an unwieldy podium – much of the dialogue is accompanied by the Luke Howard Trio’s plinky score,
The most memorable moment in the show for me was when one of the performers offered what I took to be a new perspective on the word inclusion. “In the future, things will move fast; it will be impossible to keep up.” We are all going to be in effect people with intellectual disability.
The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is on stage at the Public Theater through January 19, as part of the 16th annual Under the Radar Festival.