Friday, January 11, 2008

Preview: COIL Festival (at PS122)

Completing the powerful trifecta of downtown theater festivals this week (The Public's Under the Radar Festival, and HERE's Culturemart 2008) is PS122's celebration of past, present, and future works, with returning hits like the TEAM's Particularly in the Heartland (they'll be back in the fall with the US premiere of Architecting), current works like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and upcoming works like Iodine (YOD). The works are mostly mixed affairs that incorporate music (like Banana Bag & Bodice's punk extravaganza The Fall and Rise of the Rising Fallen), cabaret (C'est Duckie!), and dance (Beethoven Live), and, with a variety of showings from 3:00 to 10:30 every day through Tuesday, January 15th, is a great opportunity both for the artists and the audiences to get exposed.

On Thursday, January 10th, I finally got a chance to see Banana Bag & Bodice and the TEAM:

- The Fall and Rise of the Rising Fallen

Photo/Ryan Jensen

The Rising Fallen are a musty basement living room, all jam-packed drum kit, keyboard/table, impromptu soda cooler, bass and lead guitars, and a sextet of punk-clad artists with blood pressures of 278/130. The Rising Fallen are everything, which is everything. The Rising Fallen once toured the oil rig circuit, by which they mean an oil rig, where they were stuck for six months (due to weather), forced to give blow jobs, sit in a cage surrounded by steam and oil, and have their women model in a 'high concept area,' bare-breasted, for visiting Japanese execs. The Rising Fallen are more than happy to turn your frown inside-up. Don't you dare ask what any of that means: lead singer Francoise Kelly (Peter Blomquist) would have you "let it all just spin out and then look back at it"; bassist Jacko (Jason Craig) would try to find the unity in the space, a human feng shui; and enthusiastic tambouriner Ada (Heather Peroni) would just like to ride the wave, 'cause you know, on a missionary mission, you often have to do things.

The result smashes between the recent rock musical 33 to Nothing and the insane performances of The Best (OEDIrx), and is really only recommended for those who like their music to physically hurt a little. Not that Banana Bag & Bodice play badly (considering they taught themselves the instruments just for this show), but their nonsense songs are satirically unclear ("And I tried to turn a monkey into a bee/and I lied when I wrote the wrong history"), and Blomquist's deep, yet somehow shrill, delivery is wearying (which may explain why Francoise recoils from the microphone as if he's being electrocuted during each song, and collapses after he finishes). It's an energetic mind-fuck, and the addition of Mary Archias to the show (as a "fan" who replaces -- literally -- the gay "bells & whistler" Westie, as the original actor is on vacation) gives us a conduit to their insanity, but the show could use a little insulation to ground us.

- Particularly In the Heartland

What is America, when we have such divisive terms as "the heartland" (in this case, Lebanon, Kansas, the physical center of the US)? That's what The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Movement) have set out to explore, by way of the Christian youngsters of the Springer family, who believe their family to have been Raptured away in the aftermath of a brutal storm, and three visitors in their post-apocalyptic world of rediscovery: Tracy Jo (Jill Frutkin), who claims to be an alien; Dorothy (Jessica Almasy), a typical New York businesswoman who falls from a plane back down to plain old Earth; and Robert F. Kennedy (Jake Margolin). Yes, that one.

Rachel Chavkin keeps us from asking questions by painting clear pictures that often surprise us with their delicate physicality; she also involves the audience by having them sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic (whose later verses, if you've forgotten, have lines like "He is sifting out the hearts of men/Before His judgment seat"), breaking the wall with an improvised mid-show Q&A, and a few other directorial tricks. Some of this is misdirection that stretches portions of the piece out needlessly, but other devices, like the use of a bag of leaves and a bag of white powder to bring about autumn and winter, or the physical representation of Kennedy's assassination by means of a ladder and a rope -- those have an immediate pay out.

The heart of the play stems from watching the relationships bloom over the seven years between the first "Rapture" and the second judgment, and the best moments of the piece are the tender montages that overlap a series of independent actions into a united whole. The TEAM also gives another good example of why developmental theater companies are so important: there are layers upon layers of emotion between these actors, which is why their storytelling can be so fluid and clear, even when there are no words: eldest daughter Sarah (Libby King) finally working up the guts to kiss Tracy; ten-year-old Anna (Kristen Sieh) finally pushing past her childishness to take on some consequences; disaffected Todd (Frank Boyd) finally showing the chinks in his armor when he enlists for the military -- and, best of all, the million little looks and slight touches that bring Dorothy and Robert together, along with the Springers, as a real melting pot of an American family.

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