After being regaled with a spontaneous chorus of “Happy Birthday” (it was her 60th), Open Eye Figure Theatre artistic producing director Susan Haas introduced Nothing is Something as a production by “our next generation of artists—literally.” The show’s co-creator (and co-star) Noah Sommers Haas is the son of Haas and her husband, Open Eye’s co-founder Michael Sommers. The show leaves no question that Sommers Haas is carrying the torch, with aplomb.
Open Eye’s productions have always been marked by the co-existence of seemingly incongruous elements, and all those contrasts are thrown into happy relief in Nothing is Something, co-created with Liz Schachterle and directed by Joel Sass, making his Open Eye debut. The show is thematically abstract yet physically concrete, kid-friendly yet full of black humor, and completely engaging despite its lack of a conventional plot.
The near-wordless show, set in a surreal subterranean room rendered in fascinating detail by Sass, begins with Sommers Haas dropping down from the ceiling, climbing down a rope and ensuring he’s still in the possession of his precious blue ball.
He decides to sit down, light a little fire, and snack on a biscuit—a process that becomes complicated as the room seems to come alive with strange noises and unexpected hands, some of which might be his own, poking through dozens of holes that surround the hapless hobo. Ultimately, he’s somehow split into what seem to be twinned versions of his character; his alter ego is played by the rubber-faced Schachterle.
To say anything more would be to spoil the show’s many amusing surprises, but suffice it to say that Schachterle and Sommers Haas, working with dramaturge Josef Evans, have created the kind of strange slapstick world familiar from cartoons—where anything can happen, but everything seems to follow a weird sort of internal logic. Sustaining the show—with eerie variations in tone and scale—for an hour is a remarkable feat, yet it never fails to fascinate.
Credit also goes to composer Eric Jensen, who sets the stage with a varied, atmospheric soundscape that helps to create this completely absorbing experience in Open Eye’s unique, cozy storefront space. The show is recommended for ages six and up; by all means, bring the kids. It’ll blow their little minds.