Allow me to offer full disclosure: While I consider myself to be well versed in drama and performance and have an insatiable appetite for all things of the stage, experimental theater is not within my scope of knowledge, nor one of particular passion. Ok. I can hear the gasps and feel the icy stares of disapproval! Settle down thespians and please don’t burn me the stake. After all, I am just one meagre reviewer who is entitled to his own opinion. Unless I encourage you to slap on a pair of Nike sneakers and join me as we follow comet Hale-Bopp, you can remain certain that my writing is nothing more than one person’s reflection.
Wooster Group, the famed experimental theater company, is currently providing audiences with a sliver of Shaker life with their record album interpretation of Early Shaker Spirituals, also the show’s title. The actual album is a 1976 recording of the United Society of Shakers from SabbathDay Lake, Maine. Shortly after it hit shelves, it rivaled Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for Billboard chart topping placement. All jokes aside, these hymns of faith were sung by a quartet of staunchly religious women. The Shakers were primarily known for their beliefs in the second coming of Jesus Christ, shunning worldly pleasures, and a simple manner of living.
In this hour long performance, Cynthia Hedstrom, Founding artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte, Frances McDormand, and Suzzy Roche sit center stage, dressed modestly in plain dresses, and listen to the album through an earpiece. While the audience does not hear the recording, the actors can hear it-and they sing along with the music, imitating each vocal phrase through 20 of the album’s 40 songs. The staging is minimal and it is certainly void of any fanfare. Quite the opposite, actually, as the songs provide meditative and pensive reflection to an earnest and devoted religious sect. Later, the women are joined in song and dance by Bebe Miller and four hipsters, who perform upbeat and joyous versions of the spirituals. There certainly is beauty in sparseness and simplicity but that doesn’t always make for great theater. Under Kate Valk’s direction, the piece seems somewhat purpose-less, uninspired, and frankly, rather dull. While I admire the focus and concentration that it takes to pull this off, I couldn’t help but wish they were interpreting the Bangles 1985 album “Different Light.” If anyone needs me, I’ll be at home with my walkman singing along to “Walk Like An Egyptian.”
Early Shaker Spirituals runs through June 15th at 33 Wooster Street. All tickets are $25 and can be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/634543.