All The Life, All The Times
FTA asks its audience to endure
by Chad Dembski
When I say a three hour and a ½ experimental musical theatre performance based solely on the verbatim transfer of Kristin Worrall who was asked to tell the story of her life, do you get excited or scared? It’s a bit like reading a personal blog, you might become equal parts curious, amused, bored, and touched. Kristin's life growing up in Rhode Island somewhere around the early 80’s (a guess) is like any middle class North American. She is preoccupied with figuring out who her parents are, finding a best friend, and making it through elementary school.
Is this where fans of musical theatre and experimental theatre meet in the middle and enjoy an exhausting but exhilarating event? According to some who gave the show a rousing standing ovation, yes, this is a fantastic and adventurous show while others were not so impressed (about a third of the audience did not stay until the end). I stuck it out and was extremely pleased that I did, the show got better and better as it went along.
The show begins with three women in mostly grey outfits and flashes of red (they seem to have custom made Converse trainers for the piece) entering the stage and beginning to sing instantly. A prompter (Elizabeth Conner) is situated just in front of the stage for the whole audience to see and she uses large white index cards to tell the performers what to do next. These written commands (or suggestions) seem to be mostly choreography-based (bouncing up and down for example) but at times seem to have other more subtle effects as well. This at first was distracting but it became a seamless part of the performance. This prompting guarantees that the performance is different from night to night as the prompter does not choose the same cards every night.
The music in the show is a mix of music hall, vaudeville and bluegrass that is both catchy at times but in the first act quite repetitive. The second half of the show seems to open up the piece in many ways including the music, which changes styles more often and allows for a complexity of types of performance. Somehow the exhaustion and duration of the piece pushes the performers (who total 10 by the evening's end) to go to a more open and emotional place, which is a relief as my main problem in the show is how emotional the text is but how unemotional the first hour or so is. This is a choice but seems too detached and does not allow for a “malleable event that involves...spectators” (from an interview with the creators and directors Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska). This did not make me feel “engaged” (same interview) but as the piece wore on I felt more and more the epic nature of this ambitious and exciting project.
While this is the North American premiere of this work, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma have been touring a good portion of Europe for years and this brings an ensemble that is confident, comfortable and together.