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Beyond Words

Bill Bowers' uneven one-man show could benefit from more silence and sharper storytelling. logo
Bill Bowers in Beyond Words
(© Yoshio Itagaki)
The most surprising thing about Bill Bowers' uneven one-man show, Beyond Words, at Urban Stages, is just how many words the writer/performer crams into the 75-minute piece.

Since the work is billed as Bowers' "ongoing investigation of silence in our culture," it's puzzling that the silence is hard to find. Even when he's not talking, Bowers is miming to a soundtrack played at a pronounced volume throughout the theater. And while there's a lot to be said with -- and about -- silence, Bowers is clearly still struggling to find the language with which to express it.

The work begins intriguingly enough with the question of what makes a boy? Bowers talks about his own childhood in Montana and splices stories of other children including one he met in a mime workshop he runs across the country. There are also many portraits of men who made an impression in his life like his uncle, who despite being "mean" attended all of Bowers' shows to his surprise. It turns out his uncle was made fun of at an early age for having a softer side (and possibly being gay, though this is unclear) and as a result became the polar opposite.

Bowers mimes actions of boys being hyperactive and athletic but these come off as very surface responses to the question he initially poses. What is a boy or a man for that matter? What makes a boy a man? It's a question that ten people would answer ten different ways because it's deeply personal.

There's clearly a passion that peers through Bowers' eyes and ignites his movement across the stage, but there's also a disconnect between that passion and what he's communicating. Moreover, many of the sequences -- particularly ones involving cowboys -- are trite and irrelevant, while others simply feel incomplete.

In the end, for all of Bowers' efforts and good intentions, this show never does transcend beyond words.

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