Once again, Elle and I found ourselves walking down Hennepin Avenue on Tuesday at dusk, after we vowed to take a break from reviewing big-name productions.
"Where are we going?" Elle snapped in the middle of me telling her how exhausted I was. "To which theatre?"
I replied sheepishly.
"What?" she said, raising her voice over the traffic.
"To the Orpheum," I said shamefully, spoken like a true addict.
"That's right," she said, "to the Orpheum. And don't tell me it's the last time, either."
Elle is right. I am addicted to the Orpheum. I like everything about it-the red carpet, the press pack, the murmur of pre-play excitement as we shuffle beside fur-clad women to our seats. In fact, it never fails to bring me back to my childhood in So-Cal where I dreamed about stardom, casting my own dreams on stage at Century City's Schubert, fantasizing my way out of the apathetic reality of LA in the seventies.
As the folks at Off-Broadway complete its run at the Orpheum, I am sad to say Blast! was our last hit of the season. Not only will we miss the hurried rush from the University of Minnesota to downtown Minneapolis, circling the blocks to find street parking, (Jews don't pay to park) every other Tuesday, but we'll miss that "fancy feeling" that goes along with theatre-going. Good thing we went out with a Blast!
Rox: Where'd that come from? Elle, is that you?
Elle: No, Rox. I told you; I'm taking the week off-I have seventy papers to grade, remember?
Rox: Then how can I hear you?
Elle: I'm in your mind. You're going to write this in your head, remember?
Rox: Yeah, but you'll be here in case I need you, right?
Elle: Yeah, but no more "feelings!" And keep the "I" statements to a minimum. No correlations between you and Big Brother, Blast! was disturbing enough...
Rox: That's awfully Elle-wellian of you, Elle.
Elle is right. Blast!, starring a gaggle (fifty-four to be exact) of multi-tasking artists, musicians, and acrobats has that bizarre ability to evoke a completely bipolar visceral response. When not tickled into a giggling fit by the absurdity of a trumpet playing one-armed cart-wheeler, we were horrified by the daunting portrayal of what might happen in a world where Sesame Street meets Orwell. In fact, we joked around afterwards how it was like 1984, The Musical. By the way, Elle, do you think we annoyed the people next to us when we burst into laughter every time they did those aerials across the floor or danced with those strange objects? Elle? Where'd she go? Well, truth be told, she was kind of traumatized by this show. She's been talking non-stop about how disturbing it was, but also idiotically entertaining. Between you and me, I can't figure out why she was-
Elle: Tell them about the flags! At least explain it to them. The whole production was a chaotic assault on the senses. Tell them how performers pranced around the stage waving gigantic colored flags. But what really freaked me out was that Clockwork Orangeian voice over chanting: "Red! Green! Red! Violet!"
Rox: That was kind of odd.
Elle: "Violet! Violet! Orange! Violet!" Sensory overload! "Red! Yellow!"
Rox: You see what I mean? She's losing it
Elle: It was Disturbing. It made me feel strange.
Rox: Did it make you feel Anxious?
Elle: It was like I was high. It was surreal.
Rox: Did it make you feel paranoid?
Elle Not paranoid, but...uneasy.
Rox: I'm trying to understand.
Elle: Quit trying to psychoanalyze me. It just made me feel icky.
Okay. I think I know what Elle is saying here. This production-the evolution of a drum core founded almost twenty years ago in Bloomington, Indiana-was developed with the intent of evoking emotions ranging from manic to melancholy. In blending all sorts of art forms at the same time, the result is a musical reenactment of the convergence of...well, like Elle said, it was chaos. Kind of like looking at pick-up sticks spread all over a plaid singing couch. But we didn't know the production's "mission statement" beforehand so we were constantly trying to make some sort of sense out of it; but just as soon as we could justify the opening act, a Ritalin inspired Bolero, they'd throw us another curve ball. Something like lowering a man-who was standing atop a kitchen chair while playing his saxophone-from the ceiling. He dangled there for awhile. I looked at Elle to see what she thought, but she had her face in her hands. She was making these little snorting sounds through her fingers-
Elle: I was not snorting. I was laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing.
Rox: I think maybe the hanging man scared her.
Elle: He did not!
Rox: Anyway, the whole thing left us wondering what we were missing or indeed, if there were nothing to miss.
Elle: I was looking for cohesion. An organizing principle. Something. I was entranced by the drumming, though.
Rox: I thought they dumbed it down with those dueling drum guys, but on the other hand, I think that was special for the kids."
Rox: Elle, the place was packed with kids and families. Didn't you see all those school busses? They've been calling it the next Stomp, you know? Anyway, I suppose it is not easy to watch this kind of thing if you are the type of person who likes plot and order. Or if you're an introvert who doesn't need much stimulation to feel overloaded.
Elle: Quit with the psych-speak already.
Rox: Get out of my head, Elle.
Elle: Fine. I'm gone.
Rox: I would also say there is something rhythmically missing. While they were incredible at tossing and catching large, strangely shaped objects in perfect sync, there were times when-intentionally?-when a beat was off. It felt wrong-like swallowing something down the wrong pipe.
Elle: Rox? Hello? Yes, all that. But Christ, what about those guys with their heads lashed to the metal bars in the tumbling electric chairs? I was having "Silence of the Lambs" flashbacks.
Rox: I'm not convinced those were electric chairs. It just made me completely nauseous watching them go round and round while playing those...what do you call that instrument? A Flounderhonk?
Elle: A flugelhorn. Only one person (Frank Sullivan) played that kind of horn. They were playing something else. A French Horn? Mellophone? Tuba? Cornet? Trombones? Digerydoo?
Rox: Dippity-Doo? Isn't that for your hair? Do you think I need some?
Elle: Oi. quit obsession over your hair. It's a wooden trumpet. The Aboriginal people of Australia play them.
I guess it's fair to say that Blast!-while indeed that-was a total "in body" experience. While we tend to go to the theatre in order to escape into silly fantasies where we root for singing and dancing football players who want to laid in Texas, even though they're really gay-
They are too gay. Just like the guy who was so sexy on that big drum. Let me finish this, Elle. You're beginning to feel like schizophrenia. Anyway, Blast! was different because you have no choice other than to be a part of it. It was like being the Y in the YMCA at a rave or something. You can't just 'watch.' I mean think about it, Elle. We laughed hysterically for twenty minutes. Why? Because a grown person who works a day job, just like you and me, was on stage dancing with an oversized curling iron-
Elle: Right! That's what bothered me so much. Plus the whole unexpected creepy eerie part of it like when they came running out of the brown fog. It was awful. Like...like...come up with one of your metaphors here, Rox.
Rox: Like "When Teletubbies Attack!"
Elle: Yeah, here we are going along in happy fairytale land, and suddenly someone is doing yoga in the after life. It made no sense. Di-sturbing.
Rox: That's good, Elle. Stay in your feelings.
Elle: Rox, I told you. No feelings.
Anyway, I blame the Orpheum. Apparently, we both seem to come upon these tremendous moments of clarity when whenever we go there. As far as seeing Blast!, well, the gig's already taken off for another twilight time zone, but if you're looking for the next best thing in the way of triple-task performance art, you may as well try this at home: You can always turn down the sound when the Teletubbies are on and play the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies backward. Oh, and maybe put a strobe light on, as well as a few Poprocks on your tongue. Top it all off by attempting to balance a coconut on your pet's head. Lastly, make sure this all takes place on a seventeenth story windowsill. But fear not, soon enough the sequel should have us all charging back to the Orpheum. What do you think, Elle? Blaze! The sequel. Fire pits, snakes, and matches. Oh my!
Elle: Hell, I'd be happy with Bland!
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