Monday, October 27, 2008

The Man Who Pictured Space From His Apartment/Quills

Y'all missed something special with Cupola Bobber. Leastways, I'm assuming you did, as their recent two-weekend run of The Man Who Pictured Space From His Apartment probably had a total capacity of 75-80 people. Keep in mind, that's the capacity of the entire run I'm talking about, not per show.

The brainchild of SAIC grads Stephen Fiehn and Tyler B. Myers, Cupola Bobber provides performance art cum clown show with the underlying tone of master's thesis. The Man Who Pictured Space From His Apartment is the lowest of low budget, created from worklights and cardboard and a touch of papier mache. It's repetitive and at times tedious or soporific. It doesn't give any answers and doesn't even ask all that many questions, for that matter. And it's utterly breathtaking. It's a perfect example of how to do much with little or nothing at all, and thus a very inspiring example as well. The secret of their success seems to come back around to investment. Which makes sense; every penny that was not (available to be) invested in this show financially was doubled or tripled mentally, emotionally, and physically. And it shows -- from Myers carrying Fiehn on his back for much of the first half of the show to an extended and ultimately painful dance sequence to Myers, silent for most of the show, suddenly get lost in the sheer wall of words and ideas available for expression and on into Fiehn's spoken-word starlit lullaby of sorts, these guys mean it, whatever you may discover it to be.

There are no punches pulled in this show, which strikes me even as I write it as a very unusual phrase for an evening so imbued with stillness. But somehow, even in monotone, Fiehn conveys the staggering momentum of everyday life; and some way, even while only seeing his hands grab at his pant legs for support, we understand Myers' struggle to keep Fiehn perched on his back, afloat and dreaming. Because the momentum and the struggle are really happening; we just happen to be witnessing. And whether it cost ten or ten million dollars, watching something really happen is about as good as it gets.

Cupola Bobber are preparing for a UK tour as I write this, but will be back at Links Hall in April to debut a new show. Do yourself a favor and take this time to get acquainted with them. You'll want to be in the know when they return.


On the other end of the low budget spectrum lies Quills, the inaugural production by The Shadowmen. Quills is the sort of low budget that parades around as if it weren't. And, knowing the prohibitive costs of performance space in the city, Quills, running at Trap Door, is working on a much, much larger budget than Cupola Bobber. And yet, by forging onward, making every decision a Real Theatre is supposed to make, The Shadowmen appear that much more ramshackle and that much less creative. The set is highlighted by a six or seven foot tall rib cage, which, as far as I could tell, serves no purpose other than eating up all of the time and resources allotted for the scenic design (or visual concept design, as the program deigns it, which confuses the hell out of me because visually the only thing approaching a concept that I saw was a big, useless rib cage). And so, we end up with a gigantic white version of the tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas -- ignored, bare, and shoved in a corner. Annnnd.... scenic design. Costumes? Bland and serviceable. Lights? Well, they came up and went down alright. Sound? I honestly don't remember if there was any. Not that any of these things need to be flash and dash to make for a good show, but don't kid yourself. There are so many fascinating and creative things you can do with a low budget, even more when you are required by a low budget. But please, own up to it, don't act like it isn't there.

But these are all minor complaints for this production. The big complaint is the elephant in the room that apparently not a single person working on this show is willing to acknowledge: the humor. The charm and appeal of the Marquis de Sade, the reason that his name has lived in infamy for centuries is not the dark and ribald material that he came up with, it was the glee and laughter that he injected into it. No one has successfully bashed in the line between funny and disturbing nearly as well as the Marquis. The key to telling his tale, and not just Quills, but any Sadean work, is going against every humane instinct and enjoying the fuck out of it. Errol McLendon's Sade goes from everyday molestor to pitiful victim at the drop of a hat and sulks and pleads and wails the rest of the way through. And it's not just Sade; almost everyone in this show seems to be drowning in a vat of the overly dramatic. The only hint of, dare I say, Sadean qualities comes from Kate Bailey's Muse, a silent character director Scott McKinsey has added to the show. And it's a shame, because the only glimmer of evil in this tale full of debauchery is stuck playing a character with about as much purpose as the gigantic set piece she spends most of her time in front of.


It's a relatively light week this, but certainly in the Halloween spirit. Thursday is Blair Thomas & Co.'s Cabaret Of Desire and Saturday is Annoyance's Splatter Theater. I know I've already been burnt by one over-the-top Halloween show this year, but Splatter has history on its side. And this time I'll be dressed for chance wayward stage blood instead of being shoehorned into it.



RLewis said...

Quills is one of my favorite plays of all time. It's ability to address govt' funding cuts to the arts at the time it was written - with the simple truth that the desire to communicate, to express thought and tell a story to another is innate and unstoppable - was incredible.

Paul Rekk said...

Interesting. That's not a message that speaks to me within the play at all. The innate quality of the desire to communicate does, but not to the effect of speaking towards government funding, even as we are once again in a time which that issue is looming larger and larger.

Which isn't to say it's not in the piece, of course; just that it's not one that I would ever mine from it without the production beating it over my head.

RLewis said...

That's what is so great about the play - it tells one story from the past to make a bigger point about the present (of which is was written in). A contemporary story about that contemporary point would have been the didactic head beating.

You can go research the play's genesis, but I' pretty darn sure that govt funding cuts is why/how it was originally written (i can pull out my program from the nytw production i attended back then).

Paul Rekk said...

Oh, I believe you. It's just not what I connect to within the play; but it's not an issue I'm largely concerned with, either.

And if that topic was on the front of Wright's mind in writing the piece and I can still enjoy it without the issue once popping into my head, it's all the bigger compliment for Wright.

RLewis said...

Agreed and seconded.