Friday, May 5
CAN'T STOP noSIGNAL
AWESOME's newest music theater* extravaganza, noSIGNAL, begins with a video which cuts between honeycomb cells and the recursive facades of modern office buildings. Fortunately, the 7 performers soon kick in with the hypnotic falsetto harmonies and layered instrumentation which define their sound, and simplistic metaphor is left behind, replaced by an immediate and very human (apian?) theatrical experience.
Our heroes are at first confined in seven adjoining hexagons, delineated simply by yellow tape on the floor of the stage. These cogs in the machine are at first content to perform their duties; passing data between adjoining cells, producing ear-honey, and behaving without affect. However, the hive is doomed, and the approach of a terrifying and unknowable Genghis moth soon rips the honeycomb asunder. One by one, the drones are pulled from their compartments, bringing honey production to a halt and resetting the machine. When their yellow tape cells are ripped up by the remaining drones, the effect is surprisingly unsettling. The simplicity and clarity of this moment typifies the sharp stagecraft of AWESOME, shaped by their credited theatrical consultants, among the most innovative creators of theater in our city.
Much as members of THE HABIT, ripped from their colony, formed the nucleus of a new group with greater musical and theatrical potential in AWESOME, the hive reforms in the second act, greatly to the audience's gratification. As individuals, the odd instrumentation (theremin, banjo, concertina, mandolins) and sweet pop melodies lack punch; as a group, the effect is mesmerizing. And when the final member (#3) returns from a great journey, with a honeyed reed line (and another great entomological/theatrical moment), the show really takes wing.
The proof? 70 Moses Lake high school students on a choir trip, who were rapt throughout. If noSIGNAL opened their eyes and ears to the possibilities of music and theater, the members of AWESOME can die without doing another good work. But you should do your part and see this show. And at intermission, buy their album, put it on your ipod, and pour their sweet honey in your ear all day long.
*NOTE: though AWESOME's oeuvre lies outside the traditions of the American musical comedy, I lay claim to any combination of music and theater that I like as "music theater", while totally lame music theater that I don't like I will refer to as "schwartz".
A Moth Is a Virus Is a God
It has to be said, first of all, for those who did not attend Thursday’s performance: The Moses Lake High School choir, whose maroon shirts proclaiming “Friends Don’t Let Friends Sing Bad Notes” blanketed much of the theater, were very sweet and adventurous. (I couldn’t tell how much they enjoyed the show, but they sure appreciated hearing OTB artistic director Lane Czaplinski pronounce the word “kickass.”) Their choir director deserves a raise.
Also: David Russo’s video projections--especially the shout-out to my local bus route (14 to Summit Ave) and the looped bee’s-eye-view dandelion landings--are great. A lot of performance outfits in this town are incorporating video in their shows, and I’m all for it. But too many video projections end up looking like filmed theater, which not only universally blows, but also reduplicates the kind of thing that’s happening on stage, splitting one’s attention uncomfortably. Russo’s contribution to this show a) wouldn’t work on its own, b) plays visual counterpoint to the on-stage action instead of greedily grabbing focus, and c) reflects (though it doesn’t describe) the narrative arc of the show. I’m not saying that each of these things is necessary for complementary video projections, but it couldn’t hurt to imitate Russo’s example.
As for the show itself: I liked noSIGNAL a lot better than Delaware, which I found occasionally cute but unforgivably messy. In noSIGNAL, the first act has a solid structure: A sort of computer virus or predatory wax moth or something invades a beehive, causing individual honeycomb cells to self-destruct. In each of the cells is a member of Awesome. Some are better at self-destructing than others. The songs in this section are droned within a limited range--a productive limitation--and the rigorous progression of the narrative turns Awesome’s trademark pithy sentences into petits cadeaux. (“What is your access dance?” “A full mind must empty, or it will soon burst.”) The second act, however, is disappointing. You know how it’s sadistic fun to watch a celebrity crash and burn, but not so fascinating to see them put their lives back together again? Well, it’s exciting to see the Awesome-bees pop out of their hive and commit entropic suicide. But it’s not as interesting to watch the Awesome-bees pick up scattered index cards and reassemble musical instruments, even if, as Bret notes, there’s a pop anthem to reward your “patience, persistence, and perseverance” at the end.
Thursday, May 4
(Two bees, ABERNATHY and CLAUDE, discuss noSIGNAL by
ABERNATHY: First off, as a discussion of behavior in the beehive, noSIGNAL is sadly lacking.
CLAUDE: Complete disregard for secretions and pollen gathering---other than that film at the end, which was practically floral porn. I felt dirty afterward.
AB: But I understand that this is some sort of metaphoric treatment, albeit not one with any kind of rigorous allegory.
CL: More of a listening-to-the-echoes-in-your-skull kind of thing.
Free-associative riffing on ideas and words, often to humorous effect.
AB: Though---as the show lingers in my memory---it becomes increasingly clear that the whole hive-mind thing is actually about their own working process as a band.
CL: Which is dangerous.
AB: Self-referentiality veers precariously close to solipsism and self-congratulation---if there's such a thing as collective solipsism.
CL: The word "me" appears with alarming frequency in the song lyrics, I gotta say.
AB: The second act in particular, when the beehive metaphor becomes increasingly abstract, really folds in on itself as the framing device becomes increasingly haphazard.
CL: Mind you, what's being framed---the music---remains exciting, even for creatures with limited nervous systems like ourselves.
AB: Their whimsical prog folk-funk, with eccentric time signatures and capricious lyrics, has really got something going on.
CL: Our criticism is aimed at the overall coherence of the evening---
AB: With the caveat that intellectual coherence isn't the ultimate virtue. In fact, while a beehive needs structure, a concert benefits from a certain fluidity.
CL: Their previous show, Delaware, walked a fine line between randomness and charm, but noSIGNAL stumbles a bit.
AB: Not that there isn't some funny stuff.
CL: David Nixon did a class-A pratfall at one point.
AB: And the verbal shenanigans were often very funny in that non-sequitur way. There are smart and not-so-smart non-sequiturs, and these were definitely smart ones.
CL: Plus, these guys have performance chops.
AB: They're never less than engaging to watch, I concur. Even when just standing there.
CL: I confess, also, that Evan Mosher's plaintive cry of "One? One?"
towards the end of the first act...well, I got a little misty.
AB: It was sad. But back to coherence: The danger is, you have to imply enough coherence that the audience enjoys the sensation that there's an undergirding superstructure to it all, but not imply it so strongly that they spend too much energy trying to figure out what that superstructure is. Because even if there is an undergirding superstructure, it's not really the point.
CL: It's tricky.
AB: And no one's going to agree on the balance.
CL: I'll bet much of the audience found noSIGNAL entirely satisfying.
AB: I'm sure they did. And we certainly enjoyed the show. That last number? I love it when they get all anthemic.
CL: And that little pop tune John Osebold sang in the middle of the second act, with John Ackermann and Nixon doing handclaps?
AB: I'd see it again.
CL: Absolutely. But I look forward to their next creation. I suspect this, in retrospect, will be seen as a transitional time for the band.
AB: Assuming they don't implode from too much coke and whores. I hear that happens a lot.
CL: These are nice boys.
AB: It's true. That Basil Harris is getting married soon to a very nice girl.
(They fly away.)
Nothing here yet...
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