Will Bowen | Downtown News
“O let not time deceive you
You cannot conquer time.”
– W. H. Auden
Are we destined to repeat history? Must we make the same mistakes that our parents did? Can we break free from the hold of the current in the river of time that seems to sweep generations of families into similar eddies and backwaters?
These are some of the questions that sound artist Margaret Noble and spoken word champion Justin Hudnall have been exploring in their current collaboration; a multi-media show somewhat strangely titled, “Righteous Exploits,” directed by Lisa Berger.
The trio most recently put on a performance in the soothing comfort of the darkened halls and painting-laden upstairs gallery spaces of the Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Four more performances are planned at the White Box Dance Theatre in September.
Presented as part of the museum’s Summer Salon series, the show was staged utilizing a triptych of three large white roll-up projection sheets hung in front of three transparency projectors, with two microphone stands and two high-set speakers.
Noble, adorned with shoulder-length blonde hair and wearing a long yellow dress and a gold necklace, had the hint of a Greek Goddess. She started off the evening hand cranking a homemade music box and speaking in a reverb-enhanced poetic and dreamy voice, taking a distinctly feminine, sensitive, and right-brained artistic approach to the issues at hand.
They fuck you up, your mom and dad.
They may not mean it, but they do
They fill you up with the faults they have
And add some extra, just for you.
– Philip Larsen
Sporting a goatee, Hudnall wore a white dress shirt, brown vest, and a tie. His verbal approach was direct and linear and in the storytelling mode, also in contrast to Noble’s soft and circular style of musing and reflecting.
Hudnall, who graduated from Patrick Henry High and went on to earn a BFA in playwriting from NYU, began with a narrative of his own father and grandfather before moving on to the story of Noble’s grandmother and mother.
He made full use of the power of the microphone, speaking in a left-brain hyper-mental, loud, clear, aggressive, and exuberant voice, much like a frontier lawyer. Throughout the evening, he sipped from a glass of whisky and soda, which he had laid out on his speaker’s platform. He was often whimsical, sarcastic, and sardonic, drawing cackles and guffaws from the audience.
“Between a Minolta and a bottle of Jack Daniels
there is pretty much nothing that a woman won’t do.”
The show became a back and forth personification of the bifurcated mind, as if one were thumbing through a set of old photographs, while the left language mind chattered away, and the right brain’s imaginings, emotions, and musicalness periodically wafted in.
Hudnall would tell the story and then Noble would play her home-made music box or layer pastel color-enhanced transparencies onto three projectors for display onto the three white viewing screens.
While the idea of revealing family dynamics with the hope of everyone being better able to open up and talk through the dirty laundry and the dark secrets of their family psychology and the bi-part approach of mixing narrative and art/music are poignant and fresh, there are flaws with the overall construction of the piece.
Hudnall’s continuous use of slapstick and the comedic, often loudly joking about the delicate, sensitive, and sometimes shameful topics of the family is defensive and does not hold one’s attention for the full hour.
Just as composers use counterpoint in their compositions, Hudnall needs to use his voice to explore the full range of human emotional complexity. Sadness, empathy, compassion, and longing need to be depicted with the speaking voice and in storyteller terms. While there was one moment when he almost did shed what would have been a welcome tear, he stopped himself short.
Though her echoing poetic voice and musical accompaniment are very appealing, when Noble violates a fundamental law of the theatre by turning her back on the audience to work her transparencies, she, or the director Berger, lose sight of the idea that a piece needs choreography.
Noble’s color-enhanced old photographs are vague and psychologically distant, and were set so low on the viewing screens they were partially obscured by the microphones and speakers.
Instead of choosing the nostalgic method of transparency projection, Noble could have done something bigger and better with her images, something more high tech or audience engaging, which might have captivated and drawn them more into her story and allowed them to experience it firsthand.
Finally, the clearer lesson or moral here needs to be better clarified during the production. One should get the message from the show, not the liner notes on the program.
Righteous Exploits will next be performed at White Box Dance Theatre, located at 2590 Truxton Rd., Suite 205, at Liberty Station in Point Loma, Sept. 19 – 22. For more info, visit margaretnoble.net.
Will Bowen writes about arts and culture. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.