The 365 Days Project comprises an extraordinary collection of found sounds—from two kids’ improvised song about cheese to a long out-of-print record by the Ukuleles of Halifax. One of the most strangely prized recordings among collectors of such material is a recording of Kansas’s “Carry On My Wayward Son” made by an unknown girl, at an unknown time. What’s so special about it? What’s the appeal?
Some of you will surely not get the appeal—and you’re probably not the prime audience for Blank Slate Theatre’s Bloodymerryjammyparty. The rest of you should not miss this show, which closes on Sunday. The play, newly written by Heidi Arneson and deftly directed by Adam Arnold, is set in the America of Arneson’s girlhood circa 1972, and it mixes emotional authenticity with a sense of mystery and wonder. It’s deeply weird, in the best, truest sense.
|bloodymerryjammyparty, presented through april 16 at blank slate theatre. for tickets ($14) and information, see blankslatetheatre.com.|
On paper, it sounds like a must to avoid: in rhythmic, poetic language reminiscent of spoken-word performances, young teenage girls attending a slumber party talk with the audience about their hopes and fears. There are interludes of song, one of which has the girls singing about menarche to the tune of “Silent Night.”
I know, I know. But the show is incredibly effective, for a number of reasons that begin with Arneson’s script. The decision to set the play in 1972 puts into perspective both the timelessness of adolescent concerns—kissing boys (and/or girls), getting your period, dealing with your parents—and their intensely felt specificity. The slumber party guests are played by actual young girls who are surely dealing with these issues themselves, but when they quote Age-of-Aquarius song lyrics, we’re reminded that someone who was 13 in 1972 would be 52 now; she’s had lovers, jobs, fights, maybe children of her own, and though she might remember what it was like to be 13, that time is also very far away and she’s found a lot more to worry about than which of her friends hid her bra in the freezer.
Arneson keeps things fresh by playing with conventions. She drops elements of the absurd and the tragic into the play in a way that’s unsettling but organic, and unexpectedly affecting. Near the beginning of the play one girl has her throat slit with an ice skate, but she stays at the party as a walking corpse, and no one says any more of it. If it didn’t work, this would seem contrived and distracting, but because the production commits to it, it works as an eerie and ambiguous metaphor.
The music—”collaboratively created” by Arneson, Ian Boswell, and Arneson’s daughter Alberta Mirais—is catchy, but doesn’t try for Broadway sheen. The songs are fragmentary and allusive, and the chroreography by Mirais (whom, I should disclose, is a casual friend of mine) moves the performers across the stage with a dynamic elegance. Boswell accompanies the performers onstage, using a piano and other instruments not just to play music to to create a soundscape that underlines the entire production.
A pair of parents and a little-brother character also figure in the play; they are also played by young actors, and their very adult concerns crop up in a very dark, yet empathetic, way. Incorporating the adult characters is perhaps Arneson’s most daring move, and it’s so well-handled that it pays off in a big way, raising the stakes and making it clear that these girls live in a world that’s much larger than their little clique of nervously giggling friends.
The performers themselves bring intense focus and energy to the show. They’re good actors and singers, but the nature of the show means that they’re not so much “acting” in the sense of what you see people doing at the big Hennepin Avenue theaters as they are embodying, or channeling. It sounds mystical, but it’s something you have to see for yourself—and you should.
This is the kind of show I get most excited about as a reviewer, because it’s the kind of show that does what only theater can do. Big glossy shows at the Guthrie or the Orpheum are fun—and there is certainly a difference between seeing a live show at the Guthrie and seeing a film of a performance—but they’re less accessible and less unique than an intimate show like Bloodymerryjammyparty. The play is set, and takes place in, a basement, but this is really a high wire act—and a thrilling one, at that. It’s the most distinctive theatrical experience I’ve had in a long time.