by Matthew A. Everett | 7/20/09 •
If you put a gun to my head, and I could only see ten Fringe shows, what would they be and why…
|single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of six bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.|
A classic tale of deception and the theater, loosely based on the opera Pagliacci. Guitars, juggling, singing, heart-break, intrigue, death and fried chicken. Part homage. Totally rock and roll.
These people know what they’re doing. I know this from personal experience. The writer-directors are Blake Bolan and Laura Leffler-McCabe. Two of the cast members are Bryan Grosso and Tera Kilbride. Together, those four people took a little script I wrote that scared the hell out of me, and turned it into something beautiful. They create so much theater, individually and in groups, that it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything they do and see it all. But whenever I can, I do. And here’s why…
My friends at Commedia Beauregard asked me to create a short script for a fundraising showcase production they were doing. The scripts were all to be based on paintings from the permanent collection of The Museum of Bad Art. They were, naturally, bad paintings. My assigned painting was called “My Left Foot.” Two poorly painted feet, one of them inexplicably blue. That’s all I had. Bad title (stealing someone else’s? really?), bad painting.
One day, the idea for the script just came flying at me, from out of nowhere, pretty much fully formed. It terrified me, mostly because it was unlike anything I’d ever written before. And it had to do with something important – the loss of people in wartime, and grief. I’d turned it into fodder for an absurdist comedy. There’s all kinds of ways to screw that up.
I’d committed to another project as well, and needed to focus on that script, and impending rehearsal process. So I couldn’t really be a part of the production of the blue foot script, Two Left Feet. I had to hand it over to four complete strangers, and hope for the best. I got the best.
They studied every line of that script like it was a tiny masterpiece. A quote from a song lyric that I’d put in the opening pages, not even part of the actual script – they tracked down the song, even though I hadn’t named it, or the CD it came from, just the artist. That song became the opening salvo introducing the play, and the connective tissue between the three parts of the script, underscoring the narrative bridges by one of the characters to account for the passing of time. Brilliant. Never would have occurred to me. But perfect. This is why I’m not a director, and Laura is.
The opening of the play simply said…
“A figure, TAYLOR, clad from head to foot in black – hands, head, perhaps even face. The one exception, the left foot is covered in a long blue sock. That foot stands in a tiny coffin (it could be as simple as a shoebox), draped with or decorated like a small flag of the United States of America. Standing by TAYLOR are JAMIE and THIRD (currently in the guise of a military officer)”
Out of that image, they created an opening where Taylor (Tera), in a blood spattered T-shirt and military dog tags, wanders through the audience, confused, to the pounding rhythm of that song. Meanwhile Jamie (Bryan) comes on in civilian clothes, and changes into clothes of mourning. Taylor mounts the stage and puts on a dark coat, dark wool cap, dark arm coverlings ending in fingerless gloves, a dark sock on the right foot, and finally that bright blue sock on the left. The music comes to a thundering end and Third (Blake) lets the door from the basement of the Bryant Lake Bowl slam shut behind her, marching up the center of the house to stand at the foot of the stage with a folded flag.
THIRD – This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States military as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service. Oh. And here’s the foot.
At which point, Taylor marches purposefully forward and sticks her blue foot into the tiny coffin box. Damn.
In the middle of the script, Third, now acting as Jamie’s concerned mother, says…
THIRD – Everything fades, everything decays. We’re both flaking and melting and burning away while we stand here talking.
And they had her character bring on a peeler and a large carrot, and just start peeling as she spoke, right over Taylor and her blue foot. Occasionally the shavings of carrot skin would fall on Taylor’s head and into her lap. Nice touch. Funny. And a little creepy.
At one point in rehearsals I got an email asking for a little clarification on a line of Jamie’s…
JAMIE – One foot. Two foot. Red, white and blue foot.
I admitted that originally it was a Dr. Seuss “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” reference because, well, I had a painting of a blue foot and it was one of the first thoughts that occurred to me. When the military idea came along – red white and blue foot seemed appropos. But the question was more about what the line meant. It sort of came out of nowhere, it was in the middle of a transition sequence of time passing in the script. What was its significance?
And I realized, this was the first time the grieving Jamie was referring to the foot as just a foot, and no longer as Taylor, the person he loved. And this was also the moment in the script when Taylor was talking about new people coming along, and Jamie moving on with his life. Subconscious? Luck? Who knows, but there it was. And in the act of these people studying it, the script held up. They made even the little things blossom.
Throughout the performance, there was a ladder onstage. A ladder? There’s no ladder in the script. What is this, Our Town? Perched on the ladder steps were pairs of shoes. In each pair was something different – leaves for autumn, snow for winter. As each sequence in the script ended and time passed, someone dropped the leaves or snow as another character narrated the passage of time. At one point, the American flag was draped on the ladder. Later the blue sock was removed from Taylor’s foot and hung on the ladder as well. There’s a speech at the end where Taylor says…
TAYLOR – The war goes on. The people that live go on. The people that don’t, don’t. Things get tucked away. Headstones get sunk into the ground, statues go up, sculptures get commissioned. So people can feel less bad about forgetting.
And I realized the ladder, the shoes, the flag, the sock – they were creating a monument. Damn.
“Art isn’t blood. Memories aren’t flesh. Memorials are just a way of honoring something that never should have happened in the first place. They don’t stop what should be stopped. They don’t keep it from happening again. They’re just — there. Taking up space that the dead leave behind.”
Laura and Blake and Tera and Bryan took this odd little script, and they nailed it. It could have been pretentious. It could have been maudlin. It could have been disrespectful. And instead it was funny and genuine and even though it didn’t make any strictly logical sense, it was human and moving and powerful. So many of the things that people liked about it and complimented me for, I had to respond, “That was them. They created that moment.” That’s a prime example of what I mean when I say to people that often the writer is just the architect who draws up the plans. Somebody else – the director and actors and designers – they build the house. And what a beautiful house.
Another member of the ensemble for this Fringe show is Carl Atiya Swanson, who was part of the group that staged Dan O’Neil’s great script “10/14,” which I’ve gone on about at length in a couple of other places. So that’s another big plus.
I know next to nothing about opera in general (bad homo! bad homo!) or Pagliacci in particular. But I don’t need to.
If these people are working on it, it’s gonna be good. I’m expecting another beautiful house. It’s top of my Fringe schedule. It should be top of yours, too.
Their website – savageumbrella.org
Their bouncy video trailer
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