Monday, September 25, 2006

Jeff Harms' Response to "YEAR"

Jeff Harms is a friend of mine, an actor, musician and artist. He has kindly contributed some performance reviews and I hope others will follow suit.

This article responds to Brian Torrey Scott's new musical, "YEAR", which can be seen at the Prop Theater as a part of this year's Rhinoceros Theater Festival here in Chicago. Jeff has acted in several of Brian's productions and I think this may be the first one he has seen as an audience member in sometime.


PS. You can hear a talk I did with Jeff a ways back in the Dialogues section of this site.


[From Jeff Harms, 9/26/06]

I am a child of the musical. I loved the serious, even awful, musicals of the 70's and 80's: Phantom, Fantastiks, Chess, Les Miz. But now, 20 years later, there are only a handful that I can listen too. Most are now schmaltzy, saccharine, and painfully dated.

So here come's YEAR, the new musical by Brian Torrey Scott and Azita Youseffi. Beautifully acted and staged, this play still haunts me, just like Sweeney Todd did with its passionate dischord when I first saw it. Year is a great theatrical experience. I have been trying to sort out why. It is not, as most musicals are: a spectacle of love affairs and declarations of interpersonal conflict. Instead, Year uses the relationships of its characters to discuss larger more intangible themes of loss and change. And this is the singular achievement of Year, making it a musical unlike any I have seen.

The characters in Year sing directly to the audience in a Brechtian/Kurt Weil style, and I believe that Scott is, similarly, interested in including the audience in this way, inviting them to consider the play to be about them, about our times. Year is a collage of colloquialisms slightly askew, of small mannerisms and social micro-moments that placed onstage, sit in a strange isolation. It is in the midst of this libretto that the songs and the subtle shifts in theatricallity reveal the real themes of Year, creating a poetic effect that at times truly chills you to the bone. From my point of view these were very poetic glances as though through a rearview mirror, not at ideas of loss, but at the unavoidable FACT of loss and at the inability of language and metaphor to truly deal with it.

When the characters in Year turn to the audience to sing it is at once a confessional and an invitation to share the experience. The music reveals the real emotional questions beneath the dialogue. It is oddly poetic.

All my breath from the sky
takes a path and rounds the earth
follow it down to the town
To the home that you have built.
The houses walk in this place on all fours
I feed them years, years of weeks
all full of days, minutes and hours.
And my breath the same as dog's
goes in and out of these lungs to fight with yours.

On the surface it might seem abstract and difficult to follow. But I think Scott truly respects his audience's intelligence and their ability to find meaning for themselves. One could see it again and again and discover new things every time. Near the end of the play Hannah admits, "I never really understood how she and I were sisters." The playwrite's sense of humor is right there with you the entire time, and perhaps that is why the play is so accessible. Listen and you will recognize yourself in Year. In many ways you are already living it. This text and this music is just another way to try to get through to something of meaning in our lives. This is a deep play with its heart on its sleeve. And, done well, there is nothing else I would rather see.


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