Continuum Center Showcase #2

The World’s Most Frequently Bombed Hotel

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Jim Stowell before, although I’m familiar with his name — he’s one of those countless shadowy, omnipresent theatre artists lurking the streets of Minneapolis.

I found his delivery to be rather gruff and clipped, as though he was throwing away his words — which is real shame, because as words go, he’s got some doozies. I also think that he tends to lead the audience a bit more than I’d like, for a show of this nature — I think that the comparisons between the Irish and Iraqi political situations would be a lot more effective, if we were allowed to arrive at them ourselves, rather than having them spelled out for us.

These minor peeves aside — and I assure you that they are minor, in light of the wealth of his stories — I warmed to him fairly quickly, and, well, who am I kidding? I’m a sucker for travelogues. He’s seen a lot of remarkable things, and has a lot to say about them — and that goes a long way to great storytelling, as far as I’m concerned.

Date Rape for Beginners: A Seriously Funny Tale of Trauma and Recovery

Nancy Donoval is one of those performers that I’ve written so much about over the years, I’m generally at a loss to find what more to say. I’ve even heard this story before; but it’s one of my favorites, and I’m totally happy to sit through it again, which should indicate the regard in which I hold her work.

One new observation: that I’m profoundly impressed with her ability to perform for different audiences. I find myself struggling to find the — rhythm? cadence? — of the Spirit in the House crowd, which is very different from that of the people who usually pay to see my shows — they often feel more like a support group than a theatre audience, nodding sagely and “hum”-ing at every mention of the Goddess or The Woman with the Alabaster Jar — and it’s hard for me to know how to work a crowd like that.

But Nancy has a broad enough selection of material that she can play anything from the drunken, belligerent comedy crowds to church socials. That’s — really impressive, to me.

Invocation to Free Women

Mm. This one was…rougher going, for me. While on the surface, this seems similar to work that I’ve done in the past, I found it — insufficiently reflective? The poem is simply a statement of belief — it doesn’t begin in one place and take us to another. Either you agree with its premise, or you don’t — and in either case, it doesn’t seem that it would have that much to say.

I’d actually like to take a moment to draw a comparison between the last two acts. What I find so successful about Nancy’s work is that she doesn’t simply state her beliefs — she gives us the story that caused the beliefs to develop. Rather than state “I think this about gender,” she takes us by the hand and shows us the cornerstone of her thought.

I’ve written about this before, in a number of places, that I think that this is a great strength of storytelling and performance — and why, I suspect, that Jesus taught in parables. If he’d simply stated yes or no to the questions that were posed to him, his responses could be easily dismissed. By couching them in the form of stories, his teaching becomes interactive — it forces us to think through his answers.

So what I was missing in this piece, I think, is the sense of some kind of journey, even if it’s not articulated as a “story” as such — as it stands, all I got out of it was a statement of belief about Christian thought, which really doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

A Cabaret of Consciousness

I ran into a similar problem with this one. The performer’s appealing enough — brash, playful, approachable — but I don’t know that it has that much to say to you if you don’t accept a number of its basic assumptions.

There’s something that bugs me about the premise, too, that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a few days. I’ve seen a number of shows (hell, I’ve been part of at least one) in which a performer takes on the character of Mother Earth (or a rough equivalent), dispensing wisdom to the masses. And maybe it’s the confluence of seeing this particular showcase, alongside working in such depth on the New Testament apocrypha, that I’m making a connection…

…see, Christ figures have become such a tired literary device that I’m shocked at how readily we continue to respond to them: to take any idealized, ideologically perfect (by which I mean “in complete agreement with the author”) Mary Sue, and have their beliefs validated by the amount of abuse and suffering heaped upon them. This is hardly a new trend — I’m working on a body of texts that are nearly two thousand years old, and most — if not all — were clearly fabricated by those with a desire to put their own beliefs into Jesus’ mouth.

So seeing so many Gaeas and Goddesses on the stage lately — hell, I remember her from the cartoons of my childhood, and thanks for that Ted Turner — causes me to wonder if it isn’t symptomatic of some kind of shifting paradigm — she’s an easy symbol for the environmentalist movement. But I question the wisdom of her appropriation, as much as I question that of Jesus. The use of religious figures to espouse political belief is deeply troubling to me; and the fact that the new face is more appealing than the last one does nothing to diminish that.

But, yeah, that’s all a pretty meandering tangent. Her performance was solid — if you don’t get as hung up on the conceptual stuff as I do, you’ll probably enjoy it.

The Princess Diana and Mother Teresa Story

…annnd I finally got to see my first snippet of this, after having been largely won over from a position of skepticism by listening to the playwright speak. Now, here’s a shock:

It’s in verse.

At least, the section I heard was. That’s…pretty huge, and I’m again amazed that something like this wasn’t mentioned anywhere in their marketing material. This — again — caused me to completely re-evaluate my sense of what the show was — and the impression it left me with was that, by freely combining characters, use of a chorus, and use of poetry — this isn’t so much solemn documentary as something akin to one of Shakespeare’s history plays, history drawn in broad, theatrical strokes.

Now that? And doing something like that with a contemporary story? That’s pretty fucking ballsy.

My main concern is that those broad strokes could reduce the story to the kind of moustache-twirling melodrama that I was initially afraid that it would be — and yet, conversely, this threat now makes me more interested in this show than ever. This is — bold. Very, very bold. And it’s either going to be brilliant, or catastrophic — and either result will be an incredibly illuminating experience. If I was at all on the fence before, I’m not now. I can’t *wait* to see this thing. And continue to scratch my head at many of the marketing decisions that they’ve made.

Quest

…will not be reviewed by me, because I’m in the show and that would just be tacky.

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