Sara Fay Goldman’s Tether: A One-Woman Anti-Circus about Brain Chemistry is listed in the 2017 Fertile Ground guide as a work in progress. Artists always struggle with where the perfect ending points are in a work and Goldman may have elaborate ideas on how to expand her show, but Tether, directed by Rusty Tennant, is a dynamic, well composed, seemingly complete performance as it stands that champions those beautiful humans who aren’t neurotypical.
You may have seen a BBC television show hosted by science historian James Burke called Connections. In one episode he takes you on a journey showing how the Little Ice Age in medieval times led to the invention of chimneys, buttons, waistcoats, and wall tapestries, and from there guides you into the 20th century, showing how little advances in technology led to gasoline engines. It’s in these mental bridges that Burke connects the dots between what seems improbable or dissimilar, and illustrates the ripple effect of history and human ideas, exposing the corners where they touch.
Goldman moves in similar mental circles, using a hyper-ecstasy, a touch of pain from alienation, the art of acrobatics, performance art, and some delicious monologues. She’s been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and Tether is an intimate portrait of her interior life. In Act I she’s the red-nosed Auguste clown who scrolls out a rapid-fire dialogue, jumping from one quote to the next. Digging into Cartesian ideas about being, piecing those reflections with a reference to Alvin Lucier’s famous study in stuttering I am Sitting in a Room, jumping to a monologue by Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, referring to Bottom’s involvement with the juice of a rare flower in the play, then puzzle-piecing it to the Tulip Wars of 1637, Goldman props herself onto a soapbox about the British colonizers’ approach to botany and ends with the dull irony of scientific watercolor reproductions of cataloged species hanging for display in hipster bars. It’s a high-flying and exquisite execution of how creative cognition’s roller-coaster ride turns and twists at high speeds from the inside out.
In the next act, Goldman delves into a Foucault meditation on how human diversity of thought has become villainized through medicalization. When she confronts meds prescribed for her, which are essentially a form of speed, Goldman hits raw nerves. She sees the first pill to pop as crossing a Rubicon, one where she isn’t sure whether, by changing her brain chemistry, she’ll still know herself. She holds the famous brown orange pill container with the childproof lid in her hand, reading the list of side effects: “tooth grinding, corporate enslavement and loss of personhood.”
Goldman uses flashbacks to memories of childhood, when being rambunctious and lacking the powers of concentration is the hallmark of an unbridled imagination, a creativity that adults envy. Goldman is a little girl who’s late for dinner because she’s been reading about owls and witches in a book where her daydreams turn into flights of transformation, from steel-taloned white tufted owls to broomstick witches who are one with the forces of Mother Nature. Maybe, Goldman wonders, she’s the heir to some sacred earth power, an extra-emotional life and super-sensory thought that lives differently, but maybe more abundantly in touch with the world.
I won’t describe Tether’s Act III, because it’s a reward that can only be experienced. Act III demonstrates the power of outcomes, the hard-won benefit that people who don’t function as status quo earn from the deep inner work of accepting who they are because they’ve been boxed in as different.
Tether continues through Sunday, January 29, at a secret location near Southeast Second Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. You can buy tickets here, and once you arrive near those cross-streets, a sign will guide you to the performance space.