Sheep's Clothing

A man strung upside down from a high ceiling recites spoken word poetry into a microphone held up to him by a young woman on the ground, beside whom sits a table of technicians. Whether viewing the image silhouetted against a giant scrim peaks your interest or makes you roll your eyes is only a partial indication of how you will react to the whole of How Soon is Now?, a mixed media riff on vengeance by experimental performance company Bluemouth. Using the story of Peter and the Wolf as a point of departure, How Soon is Now? takes aim at the practice of exacting revenge in the name of justice. The production begins in the balcony of Brooklyn's gorgeous Irondale Center, a converted church, with a whimsical children’s cartoon, animated by Heather Schibli. The opening segment does more to ease audiences into the production than to set the show’s tone, which is a shame because How Soon is Now? has a cloying tendency to veer toward self-seriousness that a greater sense of whimsy would help undercut.

The production roves through the balcony before settling into the Irondale’s large main space, loosely constructed as a renegade courtroom (set by Stephen O’Connell and Don Woods). In place of the cerebral monologues that dominate traditional courtroom drama, How Soon is Now utilizes aesthetic elements to make its appeal viscerally. Film and video projections in muted hues (Cameron Davis, Stephen O’Conell, Sabrina Reeves and Richard Windeyer) create a backdrop at once dreary and kinetic. Music and sound (Richard Windeyer and Omar Zubair) underscore the performers’ spoken word and dance segments, while Zubair’s live percussion helps build dramatic tension.

The dance oriented piece, under the guidance of movement consultant Vanessa Walters, features choreography reminiscent of modern dance, European folkdance, and contact improvisation. The hodgepodge of styles is well suited to a production that celebrates a lot of different artistic elements, and when it works it does so because the performers execute their spirited movements with athletic prowess and artistic specificity. Often, though, the effect is muddled by the performers allowing their exuberance to overwhelm their control.

From the outset, How Soon is Now sides firmly with the persecuted wolf (Stephen O’Connell) and against vigilante justice. Yet the hour and fifteen minute production fails to fully develop that concept. Peter (Lucy Simic) rushes to the wolf’s defense, but aside from the character’s name, a connection to the Peter of the folklore is never established. Indeed, beyond its use of the folktale’s conclusion, when the town captures the wolf, as a plot device, How Soon is Now draws little from the fable. While the creators of the piece seem keen on audience communication, they fail to mine their myriad source materials for a translatable point. In the absence of dramatic clarity, potency turns to preciousness.

How Soon is Now? was collectively created by an artistic team of twelve. The energy of large group collaboration makes itself apparent in the shared enthusiasm of the performers; an outside eye might have helped them harness that energy to lend greater clarity to the performance. There’s a lot going on in How Soon is Now? that certainly resulted from a lot of dedicated artistic exploration. Without a director to focus the production’s disparate elements, its power gets lost.

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