One’s astonishment at their capacity begins before the play does. For twenty minutes prior to the curtain, the actors entertain us from the balcony above the stage with music, some of which they’ve apparently written themselves. Two guitars, upright bass, accordion, snare drum, mandolin, xylophone, trumpet, piano: they take turns on all those instruments, passing them from hand to hand as they shuffle positions in tight quarters, dashing off a solo on the trumpet or a chord progression on guitar between costume changes, as it were. After a couple of songs you start to wonder if they used to be a bar band. Aidan O’Reilley, for example, has an Irish tenor vibrato that makes you want to shout for “Danny Boy.”
The conventional pre-curtain announcements are delivered in rhyming couplets by Benjamin Curns, accompanied by John Harrell on guitar, Daniel Kennedy on bass, and Jeremy West who brushes out a jazzy tempo on the snare until Curns asks him to demonstrate what happens to people whose phones ring during the performance, at which point West puts down his brushes, comes to center stage, and appears to suffer a series of convulsions that turn him into a cannibal, who then pretends to eat the owner of a phone. This cool-jazz trio riffs and rolls for several minutes while Curns explains the principles behind the Renaissance Season, including the multiple roles per actor, the dearth of rehearsal, the lack of director, the universal lighting, the prompter in the wings, the seats for patrons on the stage, all delivered nonchalantly, in an amelodic rap-like rhyme, synchronized exactly with the trio’s groove. It would have taken normal people days to make that work.
Then Chris Johnston comes down from the balcony and primes us for Philaster with a song from his new album, which is on sale in the lobby. By the time the play finally starts, I’m willing to watch these people do anything–and they haven’t yet begun to do the thing that they do best, which is convince me that they’re not themselves at all but rather people who were put on paper more that 400 years ago, and who at last have come to life.
For the best seats, order your Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding tickets today!
Written by Mark Dewey, Shenandoah Press, 3.15.12
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