Images of war always evoke a gut response from audiences, especially these days, but when Revolutions founder and artistic director Joe Peracchio told the full crowd at last Tuesday’s presentation of Catgut Strung Violin that it would have a chance to voice its comments and artistic suggestions after the production, the nervous shuffles and clearing of throats expounded exponentially around the little theater of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. What kind of theatrical discourse would this Albuquerque audience be capable of?
Well, an extremely insightful, highly charged one, in fact. From the moment director Elsa Menéndez opened the floor to debate, an inspired, spectator-lead polemic ensued that any major theatre metropolis would have been proud of. It lasted until, finally, Peracchio encouraged them to take it into the lobby where Tractor Brewing Company was waiting with beer (the oatmeal stout and the nut brown seasonals have been my favorite thus far).
The Excavations Series was introduced in the 2004 Revolutions Festival as a platform for company members to showcase their works in progress. Holes in the script and rough edges around technical aspects are all part of the fun, giving spectators a chance to witness one of the many embryonic stages of a future walking and talking, full-fledged story. The comments given by the audience during the talk-back are used later to help the collaborators finish the piece.
Before the show, Peracchio apologized that the light board had crashed and that none of the lighting effects would happen to help the story along, but that such a technical failure is actually very fitting for an undeveloped Excavations piece. And during the talk-back, he illustrated a scripting device commonly used by Tricklock collaborators know as ‘lillypads’ in which isolated moments in the story are brought to life and the plot leapfrogs from one to the other, leaving the audience to fill in the missing information between each pad. Catgut, according to its collaborators, is still at least a year or two from being complete, so it was no surprise that some spectators on Tuesday felt that they were required to jump a little too far between some of the lillypads.
Catgut, a project featuring the talents of company members Kevin R. Elder, Alex Knight and guest artist Charles Gamble, uses physical theatre, sketch comedy and clown elements to illustrate the abstract story of the main character, Anton, who is pressed into war, and the overall effect is a full-length Vaudeville comedy-tragedy, given that classic theatre narrative devices such as time and place are left undefined. Scenarios from numerous wars in the last century were resonant onstage, from World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and, at times, Iraq. Where the action takes place is entirely up to the spectator.
A topic up for intense debate was whether or not Anton, played by Elder, was lacking in character strength due to the collaborators’ choice to make him an unaccomplished, slightly imbecilic, wannabe violin player who is detoured from his dream when he’s forcibly drafted. The overall consensus seemed to be, however, that the current character choice was a good one because it represents youth and ‘what could have been’ in what one spectator voiced as “the absurdity of war.” Elder joked that, if the imbecilic qualities of his character were sacrificed for more refined ones, Menéndez would have to recast him.
Two more new works are slated for the Excavations Series. The Night the Living Dead Returned. . .to Roswell shows tonight at 6 p.m. and an MFA staged reading of Medea Complex goes up Tuesday, January 29 at 8 p.m. Both showings are at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. For anyone who’s ever wanted to collaborate on a script, this is your chance, Albuquerque.