Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Red Fly/Blue Bottle (HERE Arts Center)

By Molly
performance art
• brilliant visuals • lots of music, feels like a concert • 80 minutes, no intermission • HERE Arts Center is one cool venue

Chris Lee in Red Fly/Blue Bottle. Photo by Ryan Jensen.

BOTTOM LINE: A visual concert of sorts...for those who are into creative, unique productions.

This review was hard to write. And that's not a negative thing. Red Fly/Blue Bottle is an adeptly produced theatrical event with delightful music and visuals that nearly brought me to the brink of sensory overload. The plot and intentions, like many performance art pieces of its kind, are vague, probably on purpose to evoke active thought from the audience. Performance art is experimental and Red Fly certainly plays with the storytelling mechanisms available through its musical means. So as a result, it's hard to describe this piece in ways that do it justice. It's really almost more advantageous to everyone if I just tell you that you need to see it for yourself to understand what it's all about. And even then, I'm not convinced anyone can fully understand it.

The story involves a couple in distress (played by Jesse Hawley and Chris Lee). The details of their situation are undefined and as an audience member, you are an active participant in your own mind piecing together the specifics. The press notes state: "A clock explodes. A man departs for destinations unknown. Hypnotic songs fill up an empty house as a lone woman peers through her microscope. A theatrical event that bridges concert, cabinet of curiosities and video installation, Red Fly/Blue Bottle challenges how we listen, look and remember." And that's a pretty accurate description. This show is an intriuguing, visceral journey; taking the ride requires thought, attention and trust that you're in the able hands of narrator Christina Campanella, who also wrote the show's music.

Campanella sits toward the left part of stage at a table and another woman (the Old Lady, played by Black-Eyed Susan) sits at a table a little ways behind her, on a raised platform. Both of these characters serve as narrators and although most of the show is sung, there are moments of narration thrown in to propel the story. These words are poetic, almost written in verse, and both Campanella and Susan recite them in a soothing, tranquil voice.

Campanella also plays music through the show, with two other musicans who sit on the left part of the stage. Sammy Baker plays drums, upright bass, guitar, banjolele and stylphone, and Erich Schoel-René plays cello. Campanella sings and plays the organ and accordian. And of course, Lee and Hawley sing as well. The music has a unique sound, somewhat subdued but with a hint of the normal rock music structure we're used to from pop culture (verse, chorus, etc). It plays like an album with each song sounding a little different but maintaining the same feel.

Video projections accompany the action throughout the performance and the projections happen on all kinds of surfaces from small, tv-like contraptions on tables, to movable screens that slide from left to right and back again as the scene requires. The projections sometimes show live video like when the old lady talks and sometimes they show footage of various items and ideas that relate to the point in the story. They are constantly changing and flowing with the pace of the story and the music that's setting the tone for the whole she-bang. This visual additive along with the movement of the set's "walls" from left to right on sliders, makes Red/Fly a cool thing to watch.

Red Fly is, at its core, a wonderfully moving theatrical experience. It is experimental and most of its risks are proven successful. But at the same time, it's not for everyone and it certainly ventures into the artsy side of live theatre. But if you are into unique performances, particularly those with an emphasis on the music that play like a concert, then check out Red Fly.

(Red Fly/Blue Bottle plays through May 2 at HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue near Spring St. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 9pm, Sunday at 4pm and 7pm and Monday at 7pm. Tickets are $20 each. For more info and to purchase tickets visit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just saw this last night and while I found some of the visuals interesting for the most part it was a dull knock off of 1980s Wooster Group performances. Hardly original, but maybe fun for a 20 something who never saw anything like this before.