Beth Corning’s Remains is short – barely an hour long – but the themes it explores are oversized, and linger. The one-woman dance piece is an elegaic homage to the people in her life who have gone – and, by empathetic extension, to those we’ve lost in our own lives.
Britton Mauk’s scenic design looks a lot like my attic: a wall of cardboard boxes forming an upstage backdrop, their contents seemingly strewn all around the audience space. Christmas lights, books, shirts, pillows, bric-a brac: all those things that get collected in a life, treasures stored, only to become the junk we have to deal with when the original owner is gone. Anyone who’s had to clean out the family home after grandparents or parents have aged out or passed away will recognize the sinking feeling of nostalgia, regret, and emptiness such detritus stirs.
Dressed in a long white coat, pale pants, and white shoes (costume by Sonya Berlovitz), Corning introduces the departed: her father, her mother, the large extended family around the dinner table, a lover, her childhood self. In a series of short vignettes, we see how patterns of movement define a person’s essence, how they change over time, what gets lost and what remains. Iain Court’s lighting schema is dark – rectangles of light define playing spaces, echoing the shapes of the boxes and tables, and Corning often moves in and out of the light, appearing and disappearing like the ghosts she dances with. Corning conjures objects from among the boxes, and imbues them with the spirits of the dead. In a particularly poignant scene, a jacket allows her one last embrace from her father.
Phrases projected on the wall of boxes offer touchpoints for reflection: “There never seemed enough of you to go around”; “How did it get so late so soon?” At times the sentiment felt a bit too on-the-nose – this work has less of the mystery and metaphor that I usually find most compelling in Corning’s work. But I can’t think of another local artist who is so intrepidly and bravely taking on the subject of aging and offering audiences the opportunity to linger a while – to remain, as it were – with the losses that inevitably come as we grow older.