Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Submarine Sandwiches in the Key of Norway

   On Sunday, my friend Cleo and I went to see Redmoon Theater's 2009 Spectacle, Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan.  I'd been looking forward to seeing the show all week because Redmoon is, as my aunt Dixie would say, "off the chain."  I'd taken classes with two of it's head honchos- Blair Thomas (founder) and Jim Lasko (former Artistic Directer, current Resident Artist)- and seen several shows there, each time leaving the theater feeling inspired and excited about making art. The space itself-an old ink factory- contributes a great deal to the overall mysterious and magical vibes the shows exude, so when Cleo told me the performance wasn’t at the theater, I was a bit disappointed.  One of my favorite things about seeing a Redmoon show is looking at props and set pieces from past performances on display in the lobby.  My disappointment was quickly abated as we approached the South Belmont Harbor to see a huge lawn hosting a gigantic scaffold system.  A crowd had formed in the area between the playing space and two sets of congested bleachers.  Families sat on quilts eating picnic dinners and people waved excitedly at their friends, pointing out open seats. Cleo and I found a nice spot in the center section on the very top row of one of the bleachers where we had plenty of space and a good view.  After a few minutes, someone announced over the speaker system that the show was completely sold out and that we were to squeeze in toward the center to make room for any stragglers.   A moment later, a set of couples came along looking for seats.  They split up, one pair claiming the bench in front of us, their companions, taking the spaces on my right.  Within like, two minutes of sitting down, the woman beside me pulled out a big-assed bag of pre-packaged croissants, showing it off to the rest of her party.  A little while after that, the guy in front of me rolled out a coupla submarine sandwiches and some fancy-butt drank-dranks.  Not to further either the starving artist or poor college student stereotype, but damn, that was a fwiggin' feast, and Cleo and I struggled to focus on the show as we watched them divvy up a giant scone, little bags of potato chips, homemade chocolate chip cookies and a Thermos of hot coffee over the course of the performance.  As I looked upon the man in front of me gnoshing on baguette-wrapped tuna salad, I had flashbacks of eating peanut butter from the jar earlier that day, and I cried a little bit inside.

Okay, now for the show.  

    In the Artistic Notes section of the program, Artistc Director Frank Maugeri says:

    "Last of My Species is an exercise in the discipline of collaboration, the potential of design, the act of celebration, and the construction of spontaneous community."

    I'm not so sure they did a fabulous job of disciplining themselves.  To me, the collaborative struggle was pretty apparent.  It seemed like the show was lots of little shows thrown together: a few songs and disparate story lines here, some acrobatics and weird machines there.   Separately, all of the individual elements were intriguing, but collectively they just felt chaotic and confusing.  The first half of the show was pretty much concert-based while the second half was more story-oriented.  The performance got more interesting as it went on, but I consistently felt like I was being performed at and that I should have better known the characters or understood the premise more than I actually did.  This was clearly illustrated when in the last third of the show, we were introduced to a new, but surprisingly significant story line which took us to the end of the performance.  As we got up to leave, I looked at Cleo and asked, "What just happened?"  It was frustrating having sat through something and feeling like I hadn't taken anything away from it.

    Despite my dislike for the piece as a whole, there were some really beautiful things about the performance.   Watching something so bizarre against the serene backdrop of lake Michigan on a perfect September evening was quite lovely.  The use of masks and strange, obtrusive mechanical contraptions satisfied my craving for traditional Redmoon oddities.  The sound and lighting were good, which is nothing to scoff at, and the choreography and logistics employed in moving the large ensemble about the space were truly admirable. 

    Please keep in mind that I hadn’t researched the show at all before I agreed to go, and that I was expecting a play in a smaller venue featuring puppetry and maybe some animation.  I mean, I laughed and gasped out loud a few times and enjoyed most of the music, but I had a really hard time becoming engaged with the show.  If you’re looking for visual spectacle (it is Redmoon’s 2009 Spectacle, after all) without tons of character development or cohesion, then maybe the show’s for you.  If you get easily distracted by large, delicious-looking sandwiches, bring some damn eats with you, so you can focus on what you paid fifteen bucks for.  Be sure to bring bug spray  (the mosquitos are out on the prowl during that time of night) and don’t forget your camera.  Whoever takes the best picture during the show wins a prize.  The sun sets during the Spectacle, so you’re bound to get some really beautiful shots.

   If you don’t go to this show, go see a show, any show at the Redmoon.  It’s an amazing place run by really talented, innovative people. 

   Also, if you’re interested in puppetry, deifinitely check out Blair Thompson’s work.  He’s sensational. 


  1. this is a very accurate description of a Redmoon performance. they have, since Blair left, been primarily focus on the performance part of their mission rather than the story part. they work at incorporating unique locations for momentary performances often riddled with symbolism most of us 'viewers' have a hard time relating to other than 'wow that looked pretty but WHAT did it mean!?'

    their puppetry, as you have previously observed, is absolutely outstanding, but personally I find the majority of their performances i think it's cheaper to sit in on a performance art class at SAIC...

  2. Yeah, I just really, really heart Blair. The man can make anything come alive.

    This performance was particularly disappointing because every other Redmoon production I've seen has been wonderful.

  3. Your description made the event come alive for me. Too bad about the show cuz I would have expected the sort of quality I have also experienced at the Redmoon.

  4. Your stories get me weak and I'm quite interested in this feast of sandwiches. I probably would have pulled a "Hey, what's that?" along with a propositional bartering gesture in the hopes that they would kindly (or regretfully, I'll take either) share their feast of sandwiches.