Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fortunate Daughter

Never let it be said that I can't take advantage of a last minute offer.

So when I saw at 7:45 that a friend had posted  a couple hours earlier that he had some passes to see "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" at the Basement, I immediately messaged him to see if one was left. It was.

I'm more than a little proud to say that I put myself together, got over there and was in my seat by 7:59. No joke.

All I knew about the one-person play was that it lasted an hour and used a different actor for each performance. Once there, I learned that Keri Wormald had see it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and decided that Richmond needed to stage it.

During the course of the play, we learned that the playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, is an Iranian conscientious objector who refuses to do Iran's mandatory military service, so he's not allowed a passport and can't leave the country.

The play, his first written in English, is his way of getting his voice heard and having a presence in places he can't go. It's done with no set, no costumes, no director, no rehearsals. Just one brave person and an audience.

Our actor tonight was burlesque queen Deanna Danger in black and white striped pants, a long, red ponytail hanging almost to her waist. She opened the sealed envelope, began reading the script to us and immediately instructed us to count off by number. I was 24, one off my favorite number, 23.

Our numbers turned out to be the means by which the script could call someone else onstage to assist Deanna in telling the story (no, my number was not called). When she called number 5 up, she instructed her to pour one of the vials of poison on the table into one of two glasses.

So we were off to a most interesting start.

Over the course of the next hour, Deanna called others up, pretended to be a cheetah imitating an ostrich (she did a mean ostrich) and had us close our eyes so she could rearrange the glasses if she so chose. She also read out Nassim's e-mail address so that we could contact him if we so chose. "I promise to answer if I'm alive," he promised in the script.

It was a very cool construct; he'd written a play to future audiences, knowing he'd never see them or his play performed. Yet, his script was the reason people were gathered doing things he'd dreamed up, even taking notes and photographs in the process. "I make people do something," he wrote. That he did.

Near the end, Deanna read his 17 ways to commit suicide, adding that the 18th way was life, also an inevitable way to ensure death. "Luck is the key to flippancy," had to be his most brilliant line. So true.

Of course the play ends with the actor drinking one of the glasses and the audience has to presume? hope? that either it's the un-poisoned glass or that the poison wasn't real. It's all about the limits of obedience.

It was also one of the most compelling nights of theater I'd seen because of how it unfolded, completely in the voice of the man who wasn't there but had much to question. Keri Wormald had been right - Richmond did need to experience this.

With my evening's surprise over, I continued with my regularly scheduled evening, a show at Black Iris. The timing was perfect. Moments after I arrived, Nelly Kate took the stage, a groovy light show playing behind her and the rapt attention of the crowd in front of her.

If you haven't seen her, she's a master of looping, layering sound and voice to build up densely textured songs. Tonight she was doing a bunch of new material because she's about to leave on a summer tour. Not that we were her guinea pigs, but more like her devoted fans (and there were plenty of musicians in that group) eager to hear new music in her distinctive voice.

Each song built on itself until a blind man would've assumed there was more than one person onstage. Later, when I complimented the new stuff, she said that every night for months she'd written what she wanted to hear until she had all these gorgeous songs.

After her set, I said hello to the band photographer, the bridge builder, the Richmanian Rambler, the gallerist and the queen of booking bands. Later I ran into the poet who surprised me by saying she's gotten all domesticated and is buying a house in Goochland. Better her than me.

It took no time for California duo Them Are Us Too to set up and begin kicking ass and taking numbers.

Synth based with an incredible female vocalist (think Kate Bush or, yes, Elizabeth Fraser) who must have been listening to Cocteau Twins in utero (and played drums when necessary) and a guitarist (with both hair and a guitar sound deeply indebted to the Cure's Robert Smith) just as key, providing the reverb-laden counterpoint required to achieve the perfection of dreamy goth-pop.

I was in love with their sound midway through the first song. A friend came over and asked if I was having fun. Wordlessly nodding in response, he said, "They're amazing, aren't they? And she's singing through strep throat."

You'd never have known it as they created dreamscape after soundscape, her multiple octave vocals soaring through the shoegaze guitar of her partner, all of us in the room willing victims drowning in washes of sound.

I heard someone say they were both 21 and if that's true, they've been listening to all the '80s music I loved since they were in diapers, only to reinterpret it in a way that's reverential without being cluttered with other influences. They clearly know what they like and happily for me tonight, it's exactly the same stuff I loved the first time around.

Only problem? Their set was over way too quickly (or did it just seem that way?) when I could have easily listened to them go on for another hour.

Somehow I'd managed to take in a thought-provoking Iranian play and catch a show that would have been a sellout in a bigger city, all within the brief space of three hours.

Luck is the key to that kind of evening. I had it in spades tonight.

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