Thursday, January 15, 2009

Under The Radar

Holcombe Waller in Into The Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest, performed as part of the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater.

Holcombe Waller is a frequent performer at Joe's Pub. He has a unique, almost heavenly voice and often sings of sadness curable only through the act of finding beauty in the bleak and turning it into music. His show is a meditation on his world view and features a remarkable visual element with projections seen on a large screen behind the performers and on cardboard boxes which serve as the set (along with a table and some pillows). It's a sensual and hopeful piece which stakes a claim to the space between a concert and a play without really being either one. A nudge in the direction of theatre--a unifying notion more disciplined than Holcombe's desire to gather his impulses--would more completely link the elements and might lift the piece from beautiful to remarkable.

But that's sort of what Under The Radar has to offer, its tremendous strength and its gift to New York. Under the Radar is a peek at works one might not otherwise see. Ideas in process and artists from around the world, stretching out to do something different.

In his introductory program notes, the Festival's organizer, Mark Russell positions the Festival in the context of an America about to be, a country filled with promise at the poise of Something New. "Let's take a brief moment before the hard work begins," he says, "to take stock of what our theater artists are saying to us. Slip under the radar to see what they see, hear the stories they have to tell. Directly or indirectly, I count on artists of our time to illuminate our world, make us think in a different way."

Last night at the Festival, I watched Samuel Beckett's First Love, an early novella he wrote, before Beckett-like became an adjective. It's illuminating in the best sense of the word, a peek at comic despair caught up in the concerns of the heart, before Beckett turned his attention outwards to the world. Like an indy love song written to the tune of Waiting For Godot and performed with sparkling befuddlement by Conor Lovett, First Love was the perfect example of the warm interior moment before the great work begins, the idea pulsing with promise, under the radar.


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