Levi Gonzalez’s The Craft of the Father is a piece that manages to convey spontaneity and realness, even as it follows what must be a highly structured architecture of sequence and interaction. Mr Gonzalez adeptly combines vulnerability with the grotesque, leaving his audience with a wonderful feeling of exclusivity, as if they have just seen something private and revealing.

The Craft of the Father © Brian Rogers
The Craft of the Father
© Brian Rogers

Mr Gonzalez, according to the Chocolate Factory Theater website, is concerned with the body and its innards, and how that translates to the act of giving a performance (“if it was all one big collection of nerves and guts and thoughts and feelings”). The body’s part in this piece is introduced from the very beginning. As the three performers – Mr Gonzalez is one of them – lie supine on the floor, we begin to hear groans and belches and wheezes and yawns and other odd noises, made all the odder by almost total darkness. It’s as if we’re listening to three disembodied voices from their existence in the womb – or maybe we’re just hearing them emerge from a very deep slumber. Or else they all have food poisoning. It’s not quite humorous, but that feeling of having intruded on something private is immediately noticeable, with the caveat that we who have intruded are also welcomed, too.

The Craft of the Father © Brian Rogers
The Craft of the Father
© Brian Rogers

The next hour or so is tightly structured, though rapidity of sections and moments of complete surprise make it feel off-the-cuff. Mr Gonzalez lumbers around the stage right space like a desperate bear just awoken from hibernation, throwing his mass around, seemingly without a care or plan. Kayvon Pourazar, always a compelling performer, adopts a series of lightning-fast tics and, later, a probing tongue. Eleanor Smith, staying mostly stage left, is doing movement that more closely resembles recognizable dance: a series of circles within a larger circular path. Tennis shoes, worn by all three, are eventually removed, and everything just gets weirder – and yet more and more endearing. The three dancers strike poses, some balletic (Mr Pourazar’s high fifth relevé) and some dramatic (Mr Gonzalez’s diva bits). Mr Pourazar ties his hood so tightly around his face that only his mouth shows; a spotlight appears on him, and he lip-syncs Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” as Tatyana Tenenbuam (who I had previously assumed was working lights) sings it live.

The Craft of the Father © Brian Rogers
The Craft of the Father
© Brian Rogers

Eventually, Mr Gonzalez announces that “that’s enough.” His two cast members gather round him, pouring sweat, to briefly discuss how this night’s performance has gone differently than past nights’. The audience is not exactly excluded – Mr Gonzalez assures us, with his back turned, that he hasn’t forgotten about us – but still the feeling of glimpsing something private pervades. We begin to feel special and lucky that we get to see these performers outside of the piece, overhearing what might be their dressing room talk.

The dancing begins again. The three performers begin a contact improvisation clump that moves across the space, ending up mostly on the floor. Grotesque sounds, now more humorous than before, accompany this section too.

Later, Mr Gonzalez begins jogging around the space in a circle. He is joined by his fellow cast members, one by one. At times, Mr Gonzalez looks as if he might falter and stop running, but he does not. He announces that this time will be the last time. And it is – the piece has ended with the same feeling of naturalness and pleasant voyeurism that it began with.