"Definition of Man” is a post-modern decreation myth that, drawing from Kenneth Burke’s essay of the same name, investigates the human drive to communicate and the inevitable breakdown that results from the inherent incompleteness of language. It features poetic exploration of thematic lines interwoven with personal monologues drawn from the lived experiences of its creators, Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller. In the abstracted setting of a burnt-out, post-apocalyptic ruin, the cast of two serves as a stand-in for all of humanity while grappling with their own personal struggles to maintain a sense of self in a world that has ceased to exist. In a tightly-paced narrative progression, they move and shift between verbal and physical intimacy, exploring how these intersect and overlap from start to finish. Nameless but for their titles of XX and XY, they are both universal and specific, two sides of one coin, speaking from their own divergent experiences to reach a place of mutual understanding. XX’s frantic reliance on allusion reflects anxiety about historical time and how the past fails to bequeath itself to the present as an organic totality, resulting instead in a proliferation of ruinous fragments. Her often onerous over-quoting reflects her intellectual background and privilege, as well as her inability to escape the inner stirrings of her mind. XY, by contrast, offers an organic intellectualism, speaking from a place of intuition and feeling, grounding the piece in reality and heart. Both explore the question of identity and disempowerment from their backgrounds, she as a woman, he as a Hispanic male, yo-yoing in a struggle over their social differences. The play dynamically explores these issues, subverting the audience's expectations about who has greater status and power between the two.
The play shifts between high-level intellectual discourse to abstracted speech to casual conversation, demonstrating the full range of possibilities and impossibilities we encounter as “the symbol-using animal.” Over the course of the play, language is slowly stripped away from the two, and all they are left with is the quiet, potent language of the body to speak through. Artistically this will be reflected by a progression towards a more pronounced, wordless physical communication. In later stages of development, this message will be enhanced by Chris Thomas’ musical composition. Words are not enough, but through movement and music, we can transcend everyday miscommunication and reach each other. In “Definition of Man,” what is not said is as important as what is.
Most importantly, the piece seeks touch the timeless by speaking “from somewhere.” In the tradition of postcolonial epistemologies, we recognize that we cannot speak for everyone but only ourselves, and that by representing where we speak from, we allow the audience a window into our lived experiences, differences and similarities. XX and XY struggle over their disparities, but ultimately discover that they are moving towards the same goal. It is our hope that the audience, finding an avenue into the play through either of these characters, will be able to turn a critical eye toward their own lives and question their own assumptions about how they communicate and make sense of the world.