Climbing the Sound Gallery stairs, my cousin Sara and I were pleased to be greeted on the first landing by a woman with a cash box who assured us that yes, we were in the right place to see Tenebrism, the latest production by the experimental theater company Lamb Lays with Lion. Climbing another set of stairs, we ventured down a dark hallway and came upon a brightly-lit room where we were greeted by two jovial men clutching notebooks. After introducing ourselves and making some small talk, we asked the guys where the performance was to be held. Their reply: “What performance? We’re making a film.” Oh.
I left Sara with our new friends while I explored the further reaches of the second floor, finally discovering a climbable fire escape that led to a third floor where I was enthusiastically greeted by a man and a woman who assured me that yes, that was where the performance was being held. (We could have saved ourselves some time and an awkward social encounter, I later learned, by climbing straight up the front stairwell.) Let me just get my cousin, I said. “Sure thing!” came the reply. “Then when you get back here, we’ll mug you.”
Tenebrism, a performance presented by Lamb Lays with Lion at the Sound Gallery, 414 N. 3rd Ave., Minneapolis. Remaining performances: September 25th (featuring Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles), 26th (featuring Chickadee Mountain Martyrs), and 27th (featuring The Guystorm). Admission $5-$25 (sliding scale). For more information, see myspace.com/lamblayswithlion.
When I returned with Sara, we weren’t mugged. Instead, we shook hands with a jumpy performer who was smoking a cigarette and sucking down a Red Bull. He suggested we make our way to the bar for some cheap drinks, a mission that we accepted enthusiastically.
Inside, the bare warehouse space had been prepared for the performance. Couches were scattered across the far end of the space, a white screen hung from a side wall, and at the near end, a phalanx of folding chairs faced a black-curtained corner set up with amplifiers, a keyboard, a microphone, a plastic bucket with a wooden crutch wedged in its handle, and various other props.
We found the bar and purchased our two-dollar drinks. (The choices on offer were, appropriately, the starving-artist essentials: PBR and white wine.) Chatting with the bartender, we noticed that though it was nearly time for the performance to start, we were apparently the only two audience members on hand. When we asked the bartender whether the performance would go on if it was just the two of us, she didn’t hesitate. “Oh, yeah. It definitely will.” We made our way to the far end of the space, where we chose a cushioned seat apparently borrowed from the back of a panel van, only to be politely asked to move—it seemed that we were sitting on the stage.
Four other people joined us on the couches for the first of the performance’s three parts: an monologue delivered with jittery animation by the Red Bull drinker, who lit another cigarette and commented on the fact that had been drinking a lot of Red Bull. The monologue began with an account of an encounter in a train car, proceeded to a narrative of a mugging and then to a description of a roller coaster ride (at which point we were all encouraged to switch seats on the couches, more or less for the hell of it), and ended with a passionate description of Craig Finn’s exuberant performances with the Hold Steady. At the monologue’s close, we were instructed to hold hands in a line and were led in that manner to the other end of the space, where we seated ourselves in the folding chairs.
“Anyone need another drink?” called the bartender. I signaled yes.
The second part of the performance was another monologue, this one performed by Jeremey Catterton with the support of Jayne Deis. As Catterton struggled, with stuttering gusto, to communicate an abstract (and possibly nonexistent) thesis about the parallels among Jesus Christ (as portrayed by Willem Dafoe in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ), Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis (as portrayed by Sam Riley in Anton Corbijn’s Control), and St. Matthew (as painted by Caravaggio), Deis perched at the keyboard to drink, smoke, heave her well-suspended cleavage at the audience, and heckle an increasingly brittle Catterton—who finally collapsed into tears and sang “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
“Need another beer?” asked Sara. Yes, please.
We sat facing the white screen for the performance’s final segment. We watched a montage of clips from an undersea documentary, excerpts from the 80s cartoon G.I. Joe, and horrific footage of the Holocaust while the electropop duo Ghost in the Water (who, it turned out, were two of the other four audience members) performed a short set behind us. When the set concluded with a long drone, the lights came up and we shook hands all around.
“How are you ever going to write a review of that show?” asked Sara as we emerged, blinking, onto 3rd Avenue.
“Sometimes,” I replied, “you just have to say what you saw.”
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.