Force & Matter in Two Dimensions

Lightsey Darst offers an incisive reading of Kira Obolensky's latest collaboration with Shawn McConneloug, "Force/Matter" - a clever, accomplished bit of physical theater with a hugely talented cast that she says, somehow, nonetheless, feels a bit flat.

1Photo by Irve Dell, courtesy of the artists

We’ve reached an interesting moment in the Twin Cities’ physical/alt theater scene when a show as clever and accomplished as Shawn McConneloug and Kira Obolensky‘s Force/Matter can seem unremarkable. Performers bat raw eggs back and forth with ping-pong paddles while carrying on devastatingly awkward seductions; they deliver surreal lines of supreme ennui or reckless collage while rolling around on stage and climbing over set pieces.

The set includes a skeletal motel room (designed by Irve Dell) that ratchets up from level, at first, to 45 degrees, then to 90, leaving the performers clinging to its comfortless frames, doing their best to lounge in newly precipitous perches. The rest of the set is minimal, but projections (the work of Andrew Welkin) spread across the back walls, static in the beginning, but then winking at us or morphing gradually from lakeshore to deep water.

This is a show with an Astroturf blazer (created by Kathy Culley) and a magnetic dress, with snappy quips and poetic reveries, with constant banter and bounce, with top-notch performers, with multiple elements held in balance by skilled hands — so why did it seem like just another pleasant evening at the theater?

Maybe the show’s stated premise gave me the wrong idea: Force/Matter

…draws on both the laws of classical and modern physics and the notion of a thought experiment to tell an intertwined story about couples who meet, attract, repulse and move through three ‘worlds’ — one level, one sloped, and one turned at a 90 degree angle.

This description’s literally true: Force/Matter tracks a day in the life of an unhappy couple — a failed inventor (Robert Rosen) and his homewrecking homemaker wife (Annie Enneking) — together with her sister, an aspiring actress and relentless vamp (Kimberly Richardson), and his brother, a grass seed salesman eager to plant the world (Luverne Seifert). But this description also offers the promise of a metaphysical level the show doesn’t attain — a striving to connect our strange relationships with the equally mysterious laws of matter. Those laws certainly pop up in Force/Matter: the characters constantly drop and throw objects, lose their balance, tumble, tussle. But their experiments in motion lack weight; they stop at shtick.

The characters constantly drop and throw objects, lose their balance, tumble, tussle. But their experiments in motion lack weight; they stop at shtick.

Why? The characters themselves lack weight; they’re cartoons whose ridiculous fumbling can’t arouse much sympathy. The men get more development than the women — Seifert’s salesman, Danny Jim, in particular shows some poignant idealism amid his womanizing — but even they can’t escape the dominant strain of silliness. When the brothers reminisce about their alcoholic, abusive mother (who can be told from her twin sister because one is vertical, the other horizontal), the scene garners only laughter. If that were laughter tinged with hysteria, laughter on the edge of an abyss, that would be one thing — and the scene could easily tilt that way — but I recall only straight-up yuks.

The women are even flatter: neither Roslyn, the wife, nor Vivian, her revved-up sister, has an admirable thought or dream in her head. Fed-up Roslyn pursues fun and revenge with a knife-edge vigor; airhead Vivian wants to act not because she’s an artist, but because she’s a raging egotist keen to seduce the world. So, when Vivian drops oranges, watching their fall, the lesson of gravity doesn’t lodge, doesn’t resonate, because Vivian’s weightless herself.

And this brings us to Kimberly Richardson. Naturally lovely — doe-eyed, slender yet curvy, with legs for miles — Richardson rules the stage with Vivian’s parodically overwrought sexuality, her constant kittenish posturing (in a catsuit and leopard-print heels, no less) and her faux-ingénue moue. She’s the force acting on everyone’s matter here, the other characters’ and the audience’s. Words can’t do justice to her reaction when Danny Jim’s little grass rake suddenly sticks to her magnetic bracelet: a simper of surprise that ripples out in a coy tilt of her head and shiver over her entire body. Richardson’s comic genius embroiders every moment with deft absurdity. It’s hard not to feel that Richardson’s at least partly responsible for the antic tone of Force/Matter — but it’s impossible, when Richardson’s on stage, to wish her anywhere else.

Related performance details: Force/Matter, by Kira Obolensky and Shawn McConneloug (performed by Robert Rosen, Annie Enneking, Luverne Seifert and Kimberly Richardson), will be on stage at the Ivy Building for the Arts’ STUDIO 206 in Minneapolis through June 11. Tickets range from $10-$19.

Lightsey  Darst

Lightsey Darst is a writer and critic based in Durham. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for both literature and dance criticism, as well as a Minnesota Book Award. Her books of poetry are Find the Girl and DANCE (2010 and 2013, both from Coffee House Press). Her criticism is online at,, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut. …   read more