THEATER | Jon Ferguson’s “A Bun for a Door Handle”: A weighty sort of whimsy

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Explaining to people why I’ll go to see anything Jon Ferguson does, I say that Ferguson creates spaces where things can happen that don’t happen anywhere else. He and his collaborators so clearly trust and inspire one another that you walk out of the theater into a world that feels richer than you’d realized it was before you went in.

A Bun for a Door Handle, now playing at the Forage Modern Workshop—a new working space on Lake and 40th that’s positioning itself as a kind of creative incubator—is a sequel to the transcendent You’re My Favorite Kind of Pretty, a thrilling and ridiculously charming ode to infatuation and what lies beyond that was my favorite show of 2008. At the end of that show, we watched Ferguson and his partner (Sara Richardson) head off towards the edge of a metaphorical waterfall, worried about what the future will hold but ready to take the risk together.

The new show picks up with Ferguson and a cohabiting partner (presumably the same character, though not played by Richardson; if there was a program, I didn’t get one) losing the spark that brought them together: fighting over little things, picking at each other, reluctant to share affection. Cupid is dispatched to heal the rift, and deals with not only the characters but also their “pure” selves, who converse with Cupid, with each other, and with their less-pure embodiments.

That sounds awfully confusing, and it is, but the confusion isn’t fatal. The whole show has a half-improvised quality (it probably is), and as long as we understand the emotional stakes (we do), the show works. It doesn’t work as well as Kind of Pretty—it’s not as polished or satisfyingly structured, and it ends very abruptly—but it hits the same vein of truth.

A central conceit of the show is that the characters know their surroundings are fundamentally imaginary, and only exist as long as the couple mutually imagine them to. (Hence the misunderstanding that supplies the show’s title.) The conceit provides the basis for a little slapstick humor and a lot of insight: the walls of the actual house you and your family live in are physically more real than the four walls surrounding Ferguson and his partner, but what do they mean if you don’t love the ones you share them with—and what is love but a form of agreement, a negotiated understanding about what’s important and real in the small world you inhabit together?

Many of Ferguson’s collaborators here are dancers—Ferguson’s reluctance to dance is a metaphorical plot point—and they’re all quite young, in their early 20s or even teens. The 37-year-old Ferguson stands out in this group, but what might have seemed awkward or even creepy in other hands becomes poignant here: we know that Ferguson has personally lived experiences that his collaborators haven’t, and it inspires us to reflect on what romantic love seems to mean when we’re as young as Cupid and when we’re somewhat less so. Is love a door handle? Is it a bun? Or is it more like…an egg?