Theatre on Fire and Charlestown Working Theater are hosting three weeks of edgy new works from some companies you will recognize and some you won’t—but once you’ve seen what they can do, you won’t forget them. The productions in THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (May 10-27) offer poetry as theater, piano as drama, “found object” puppetry, personal exploration through song, choral readings and reexaminations of women’s roles in society, from an acolyte of Charles Manson to the genius ex-pat Gertrude Stein.
My favorite (of the three I’ve seen so far, all wonderful, mind you) is a delightful construction by Travis Amiel, based on the life of the ‘70s and ‘80s performance artist (as if one could ever categorize him) Klaus NOMI. If you don’t recognize the name NOMI, please do visit YouTube for Nomi’s exquisite performance of Purcell’s “The Cold Song.” The company (mostly from Emerson) accomplishes the rarest of magical feats: They pay tribute (by re-creation) while they manage to capture Nomi’s enchanting, almost childlike spirit with their own, luminous alchemy.
Director Riley Hillyer and company (including star turns from Aaron Drill and James La Bella) offer gorgeous divertissements enhanced by glitter, strobes, extravagant posturing choreography (one of Nomi’s specialties), a paper bag David Bowie (If Marlon Brando can be a suitcase, why not?) and joyous audience participation. Drill has a formidable falsetto (perfect for Delibes) and hilarious low notes! At the same time, Drill inhabits Nomi’s credo “to be as natural as I can while posing wildly.” The entire cast’s enchanting imagery and gestural language speaks directly, without words, to the solar plexus: When they ‘oh so’ artistically and gracefully paint Nomi’s lithe body with circular brown spots (to indicate Kaposi’s sarcoma), it took my breath away. If only they had a longer run so you all could experience NOMI.
Bryn Boice’s I, SNOWFLAKE is part elegant choreo-poem, part verbatim accounts (a la Studs Turkel) of post-election shock and mostly, as Anthem Theatre describes the piece, a “commedia tragic-farce for the World We Live in Now.” The witnesses, all dressed alike in crisp white shirts, black leggings and cradling IPhones, lament the sorrows we all grieve about: global warming, violence, genocide, nuclear annihilation and so much more and more and more.
They’re dogged by a resilient little mime (the sensational Julee Antonellis) who is buffeted about and dispatched numerous times (most chillingly gunned down like Trayvon Martin and his many, many successors). Boice wisely balances the terrible sorrows and fears with humor and cheek. We’re treated to a nifty pussycat allegory (about abortion) and a spunky folk ditty from Sylvia Sword on ukulele (about grabbing those pussies).
Boice offers the best dissection I’ve yet encountered of the insidious, seemingly faultless male catcall, “Smile,” which is punctuated by Caitlin Jones’ stellar rendition of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” The ensemble of ten extraordinary women utilizes metaphor, music, fluid movement and righteous indignation to drive home their hopeful (thank goodness) message: Each snowflake is unique and fragile by itself but thousands of snowflakes together can bring a city to a halt.
Doug Wright’s lauded one-man show, I AM MY OWN WIFE, features Gabriel Graetz (known for his remarkable character work with many local theaters) as the German transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf … as well as all the characters swirling around her. Charlotte survived the Nazis, the communists, and the skinheads that followed them. The piece centers around Wright’s discovery of the real life Malhsdorf and her inconceivable museum (of objects she managed to squirrel away in her basement under the noses of the Nazis). The piece includes his letters asking for interviews and his subsequent visits to Berlin to see her.
Graetz is thoroughly charming as Charlotte, self-consciously tentative and mildly flirtatious with the audience, as she shows us her gramophone and other objets d’art. Graetz’ German is flawless, even seductive as he reminisces about cabaret days or hums snatches of Strauss. Graetz has an immensely touching scene as Mahlsdorf’s friend, Alfred Kirchner, languishing in jail, reading a cheery letter from Charlotte (who may or may not have informed on him). Director Daniel Morris and Graetz allow us to contemplate the latter by showing Charlotte’s calculating side (when she schemes to sell clocks to G.I.s). Just as Charlotte describes her worn and scratched furniture (and herself, of course): “The marks [on the chair] are proof of history.”