“Torture numbers,” author Gregg Easterbrook once wrote, “and they’ll confess to anything.” David S. Kessler, a masterful storyteller aided by onstage musicians and projections in his new show, Numesthesia, takes a decidedly kinder approach and allows them to speak for themselves.
Numesthesia, also known as Ordinal Linguistic Personification, is a rare form of synesthesia—or the mixing of the senses. In Kessler’s case, he sees numbers as human beings, complete with emotions, flaws, and relationships to one another. As you can imagine, it makes doing math complicated, but luckily for us, also makes for an entertaining bit of theatre.
Kessler begins by telling us a little about what it was like growing up with his condition. His mother was fond of saying that he saw the world sideways—not upside down or backward, but sideways. It made it difficult for him to establish and maintain friendships, let alone fit in with the rest of his peers.
closes July 22, 2017
Details and tickets
But he always had plenty of company in the form of personified numbers—specifically Zero through Ten. And, just like people, each one is a familiar type yet uniquely its own character. One is a genderless Zen master. Five is a rambunctious teenager who looks out for Four. Six is a bisexual, crunchy granola nature lover who loves taking her younger sister Three on camping trips. Let’s not even talk about Eight—the insecure bully of the group. Ten is a majestic queen, ruling over them all.
The performance itself features Kessler weaving a story for the audience, introducing us to each one of the numbers out of order, and interjecting autobiographical details from his young life and information about his condition. He’s joined on stage by brothers Rich and Kevin O’Meara, who play a collection of traditional instruments as well as metal bowls, rotary saws, and other found objects to craft a hypnotic musical trance over us (one of my fellow audience members called it “spa music” and I can’t argue with that). Ryan S. Taylor’s direction keeps Kessler moving about the space and interacting with the audience in a way that’s engrossing rather than distracting.
Kessler clearly knows how to keep an audience engaged. It was a sold-out crowd the afternoon I attended and despite one audience member’s phone going off three separate times (come on, folks), he was able to handle it was grace and humor, thinking on his feet and incorporating it into story.
While Numesthesia is, on its face, about the unexamined lives of numbers, it’s real value is in introducing us to a new way of looking at the world around us through another person’s very unique lens—which is the ideal to which all great theatre should strive.
Numesthesia by David S. Kessler. Directed by Ryan S. Taylor. Featuring: David S. Kessler, Rich O’Meara, and Kevin O’Meara. Lights, sounds, and projections: Neil McFadden and Joseph Musumeci. Costume design: Jesse Shipley. Stage manager: Philip da Costa. Assistant stage manager: Juliana Schoettler. Produced by Uncle Funsy Productions. Reviewed by John Bavoso.