Money seems to be on everybody’s mind these days—the lack of it, the uneven distribution of it, how to find a job so you can make more (or any) of it. The phrase “the American Dream” has been overused and twisted around so much by so many people that it’s hard to make sense of what it even means any more. The company Cade Holmseth Dance has taken the abstract concept of money and made it concrete—by littering the Intermedia Arts stage throughout the evening with 60,000 pennies (just in case you wondered what $600 actually looks like).
“14 hours a day for a white picket fantasy.”
Choreographer/director/co-writer/producer/stage-manager/performer/sound-and-costume-designer Cade Holmseth (phew!) has centered his latest full-length work Just One More: A Story of Affluenza on the pursuit of the American Dream, but has nimbly avoided the cliches by creating a hybrid style of performance. Just One More has a story with a beginning, middle and end, filled with absurdist comic dialogue and situations, but it’s not strictly speaking a standard play. Just One More has copious amounts of beautiful, fluid, often amusing movement set to an eclectic mix of music, but it’s not strictly speaking a dance show. Just One More is bookended by a narrator of sorts (Holmseth) starting out what seems to be conversationally but slyly transitioning into spoken word, but it’s not a performance showcase. How exactly Homselth and his company of performers manage to balance these disparate elements together into a coherent evening of entertainment, I’m not entirely sure. But balance they did, and entertaining it is.
“I can feel what’s about to happen.”
The broad outlines of the story are pretty straightforward. We are introduced to a family, the Smiths: father Greg (Brian Evans), mother Constance (Kari Mosel), jaded older daughter Cecilia (Sarah Jabar) and hopeful, creative younger daughter Penelope (Jessica Ehlert) (but, of course, they call her Penny, wink wink). The women also double up as Greg’s new co-workers, two of whom are supervisors with competing agendas where Greg gets caught in the middle; all of whom inexplicably keep calling him Bob, or Robert, or Bobo (instead of Greg).
“We will be health-oriented even if it kills us.”
The absurd demands of Greg’s new job end up slowly estranging him from his family. A dance between husband and wife which flows so smoothly at the beginning becomes disjointed, and later desperate. But the moves, and the love, continue to burst through. Ultimately, though the women in Greg’s life on the job leave his head spinning, the women in his life at home ground him in what’s important. The family still struggles to (literally) stay on its feet, but as the lights dim, they’re still standing, and standing together. It’s an honest, but hopeful, metaphor for a troubled time.
“It’s easier than I thought to end up alone in the dark.”
The four dancer/performers also collaborated with Holmseth in creating the characters and the story. Of particular note are Mosel and Evans. Kari Mosel portrays Constance as a woman of few words but her movements speak volumes. In her moments of solitude, she sometimes finds it hard to get her hands and arms to work. Later, she tries to teach her younger daughter (Ehlert) these movements to pass them on to a new generation. Of course she meets resistance, but she persists.
“It’s more than just numbers. It’s heart.”
Another place where Mosel’s persistence pays off is in her pas de deux with Evans. (I know it’s dangerous, me trying to use actual dance terms, but applying the word “duet” just feels weird.) The opening dance for husband and wife is smooth and lovely, with the two of them completely in sync. Once Evans starts the new job, there are missed connections in the next dance, but still some recognizable places where things go right. The next encounter, later in the action, is more difficult, but neither of them give up.
“Not tonight, honey. I’m spent.”
When Evans is reduced to curling up in a seated position on the floor, Mosel gets down on his level and embraces him. Slowly, Mosel climbs up onto the seated Evans, positioning herself on his shoulders. Then Evans slowly rises to his feet, taking Mosel up with him. Leaning forward and back, never disconnecting, the two create some stunning visual tableaus. Ultimately, Mosel ends up in a dance that is more of a struggle, rending Evans’ uniform from his body and alllowing him to free himself from the job that is grinding him down.
“Here’s my card. I can be your friend.”
Brian Evans is also quite the comedian. There’s a sequence where he produces a fistful of business cards and markets the many sides of himself to the audience: friend, nemesis, lover, he offers to be all things to all people. Then a voiceover takes control of the action, marketing all sorts of special offers and unique benefits culled from dozens of bewildering commercials, while Evans leaps and bounds around the stage, spilling pennies from his pockets everywhere he goes.
“I also have cute, romantic and sensitive as a package deal.”
Evans’s eagerness to please on the new job, despite nonsensical (and diamterically opposite) commands from his supervisors makes for great verbal and physical comedy as well.
“When there’s a down, there can be an up.”
One could quibble that the potential of Ehlert and Jabar in the characters of the two daughters isn’t fully realized. While Ehlert’s character Penny has something of a throughline with Mosel trying to pass down her movements, mother to daughter, the young woman still doesn’t have much of a purpose of her own. Her oft-mentioned school project takes spectacular shape at the top of the second act when the stage floor is transformed by a plethora of pennies into tree-covered hillsides under a big cartoon-like sun. (She is, in a sense, literally playing with money here.) But neither she nor her sister have much of a life of their own. They are the “children” in the “mother-father-children” equation. So the question of whether two daughters are necessary, or whether only one would do, comes to mind. Still, all four dancers do such good work, and are such fun to watch, you’d be loathe to lose any of them. This is probably just a place for further growth in the concept moving forward.
“What really makes me happy?”
Do you work to live, or live to work? Striking a balance is tough, but Just One More picks the problem apart in ways that are engaging and never heavy-handed. Just One More is a different kind of dance, a different kind of theater. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. Very highly recommended.