A lone woman, dressed in a negligee and draped in a sheet, awakens to the sunlight pouring through the window and confronts the loss of yesterdays and the emptiness of today in "The Absence Held Fast to its Presence," the mood piece for actress and two musicians that is being presented through Monday at the Washington Project for the Arts.
The 45-minute work is not quite as hermetic as its title might lead you to believe. Then again, it is not especially dramatic. It may not even want to be. Written and directed by Emilio Cruz, a New York-born writer/painter/musician, it plays a woman's inner thoughts -- some of them spoken, some of them on tape--against a musical score primarily for percussion, saxophone and flute.
Once she has unwound herself from her cocoon, the woman moves through space, defined only by a broom, a rocking chair and pools of flashing lights. We learn little about her specifically, other than her name, Cora. Instead, the text prefers to explore the metaphysical void into which she has tumbled.
A woman "of frail dust," she feels "as if she were adrift on a sea of the dead," sailing into "the abyss of yesterdays gone." At another point: "The memory of her lingering absence burned deep into her somnabulance." She hears her mother calling her, unless it is merely a distorted echo from the outside world. She spins through the darkness of her mind. The remaining purpose of her leftover life: trying to "placate the illusion of time."
Some of Cruz's text is evocative and Patricia Cruz delivers it with a studied gravity and sculptured movements that frequently suggest dance aborning. By the same token, some of it is frightfully self-conscious and I'm not sure that "the pilot light of our eternal ovens" is an especially felicitous phrase for the spark of godhead within us all.
Still, the piece is performed with commendable economy and the interaction of the music, improvised jazz with overtones of the Orient, and the searchings of a lost soul is sometimes evocative. To me, "The Absence Held Fast to its Presence" looked like what might result if one of Tennessee Williams' heroines somehow turned up in the formalized Japanese Noh theater. That may be all wrong, but it kept me watching.