Peter Handke's 'The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other' graces ASU stage

Like portraiture framed by a string of lucid vignettes, Peter’s Handke’s “The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other” offers a momentary view into the beauty of the lives steadily passing by us, all without a word of dialogue. In lieu of serious discourse, inner monologues come to light through actions and words transcend into an abstract language that still manages to speak volumes about the human dynamic.

The wondrous one-act play is directed by Phil Soltanoff, a New York-based theatre artist who has been involved in productions such as “To Whom It May Concern” and “An Evening With William Shatner Asterisk.”

Like Handke, Soltanoff formed the initial concept of the production after watching people through a cafe window as they sauntered by.

“I would see people as they pass by and from that brief moment, I would write stories on what I saw,” Soltanoff said. “I let that experience fold into other ideas but my inspiration was always rooted in that basic human experience.”

It is widely accepted that the Austrian dramatist intentionally left the floodgates open for different interpretations when writing the play over 30 years ago. With Handke’s forethought in mind, Soltanoff designed the play to allow the audience to walk away with their own exposition of the play.

Find tickets and further information here.

“I think this play touches on the meaning of alienation and the concepts of individualism versus community,” Soltanoff said. “However, I don’t think there is a definitive reading of the play because it makes itself available to many readings, as all good theater does.”

It’s become a matter of convention how productions place reliance on speaking as the primary means of connecting with audiences as well as the characters with another. This play has essentially turned this idea inside out by having hundreds of characters connected only by the town square of which they pass through. With such a large collection of characters, it’s comes as a quite a surprise when it is revealed that a mere 13 actors complete the ensemble.

One of the acting talents is Abraham Anene Ntonya, an ASU graduate who is now pursuing his MFA in the theater performance program at ASU. Ntonya noted how the anomalous grandeur of this production initially presented a challenge for him.

“I was challenged to approach this material from a completely different angle because this play requires an open perspective on what truly constitutes theater,” Ntonya said.

Ntonya added that a big component of the production is rhythm and how it is heavily impacted by the the various wardrobe changes.

“The backstage is just as important as what is seen on the stage because it’s like a choreographed dance meaning that we all have to be in the same rhythm and we can’t miss a beat.”

Flowing with imagery and rich with naturalism, “The Hour We Knew Nothing” is truly a work of art that summons the time-honored narrative structure to trial. The production is part of ASU School of Film, Dance and Theater’s 2014-2015 MainStage season and it continues to grace the stage of the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse on ASU’s Tempe campus through April 12.

Disclaimer: contains nudity and strobe lighting

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Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of actor Abraham Anene Ntonya. It has since been updated.

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