Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Solo Performance Festival: The Dwellers & Samson

The Dwellers and Samson
Solo Performance Festival
March 8th, 2010

The breadth and depth of Seattle’s solo performance talent pool is remarkable, and the Solo Performance Festival brings many of them under one roof. Monday night’s billing matched an experienced solo performer, and his story of an apartment building “where the floors are thinner than the walls,” with a talented musical actress going solo for the first time as she explores a new form of musical theater.

The Dwellers, written and performed by Jonah Von Spreecken, is not quite a mystery, but writing too much about it runs the risk of ruining some delightful surprises. To keep it simple: Yerda, who is a sort of manager of an urban apartment building, has brought most of the tenants together. We in the audience are in fact “the dwellers” of the building. With the help of some recorded conversations which he plays on his phonograph, Yerda tells us his story. Von Spreecken as Yerda is a very engaging performer. Every expression and action is very specific, including a catalogue of repeated hand gestures that provide some of the funniest bits of the evening. You feel a part of this world before the show even begins, and long after it ends, just what a successful solo performance hopes to achieve.

Billie Wildrick’s Samson is an entirely different animal. She admits this candidly when she breaks the fourth wall and introduces her “plus one, even though you’re supposed to go stag in a solo performance,” Josh Carter, who provides live musical accompaniment. Samson, she tells us, is a work in progress. Her aim is to take musical theater in a new direction, where intimate spaces and acoustic music take the place of enormous sets and flashy dance numbers. Rather than interrupting the story occasionally, music is to be a constant throughout the narrative, coming in and being a part of the story when necessary. This piece, a re-telling of the story of Samson and Delilah, is her first foray into a new world and it is an excellent start. When the piece hits its mark, and her beautiful voice intertwines with Josh Carter’s haunting music, it soars. She asks for audience feedback in her introduction, and she deserves it, to help her fine-tune the work. It sounds like she will be working on the show throughout the festival, so repeat viewings would not be amiss. The final product, for this festival anyway, on March 29th could be significantly different than what was on display Monday night.

You have three more chances to see each of these works, including one more chance to see this same double-billing. Monday night’s audience was disappointingly small, and both of these performers are deserving of full houses. For the full festival lineup, visit http://www.theatreoffjackson.org/spf4.html

There are still three more weekends of shows to go—enjoy solo performance!

by Guest Reviewer Patrick Lennon

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