Arid, Extra Dry

"Awesome" and the Underdeveloped West

Arid, Extra Dry

Seven members strong and equipped with permanent quotation marks, the band/theater collective "Awesome" has spent the past decade blurring the lines between music and theater while distinguishing itself in both fields. Onstage in a nightclub, "Awesome" plays like a goofily theatrical alterna-rock band with a gift for intricate vocal harmony. Onstage in a theater, "Awesome" plays like a performance troupe blessed with highly musical members. Most recently, "Awesome" set up shop at On the Boards, the esteemed (and Stranger Genius Award–winning) center for contemporary performance, which presented the premiere of West, an original music/theater performance "inspired by the journey of Lewis and Clark and the myths of westward expansion... about the places where the sun sets and an exploration of the people who followed it there."

I include this verbatim description from the OtB website because it answers the question that was clanging around in my head for the majority of the two and a half hours I spent looking at West: What the hell are they trying to communicate?

Themes of westward expansion are concretely addressed by the set—a collection of towering shipping crates made of clean new wood, assembled by designer (and Genius Award–winner) Jennifer Zeyl. The various members of "Awesome" wander among those crates, clad in old-timey workman's garb, occasionally playing music (much of it monochromatic, midtempo dirges) and acting out scenes of westward travel, which ranged from the telling of cryptic riddles to long, repetitive stretches of portentous posing. Director Matthew Richter has gathered the group's exertions into stage pictures and mixed flashes of rich brilliance throughout the crypticness (most notably, a glorious scene of "Awesome" encountering the night sky).

But between each moment of glory—a blast of wit from Basil Harris, the gorgeous voice of John Osebold—are endless stretches of nothing. Minutes crawl by as members of "Awesome" stand around looking dour, or slowly walk around looking dour, or stare dourly out at the audience. In the right hands, such physical minimalism can be explosively theatrical; executed by "Awesome," it looked like a bunch of guys not doing much, for a long time, portentously. The musical joy that has long characterized "Awesome" was nowhere to be found, replaced with a grim seriousness unconnected to a single concrete and communicable idea. Tiny consolation: The band looked as miserable as the audience. Onward. recommended


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michael strangeways 1
The second act did not work...
Posted by michael strangeways on April 28, 2010 at 9:32 PM · Report this
This review is absolutely accurate. Though I can't believe you didn't mention that criminally indulgent endurance-test of a 2nd act. I wanted to love it, and there were moments of gorgeousness but mostly it really it was a boring, disappointing, confusing piece of performance art.
Posted by rarelycomments on April 29, 2010 at 8:53 AM · Report this
The audience was so miserable, they gave the show a standing ovation.
Posted by pssshhht on April 29, 2010 at 9:33 AM · Report this
@3: Seattle audiences have been known to give standing ovations to curtain speeches, intermission music, and rows of blinking lights.
Posted by Not Really Here Or There on April 29, 2010 at 11:12 AM · Report this
man tastes do vary! I loved it.
Posted by jen z on April 29, 2010 at 12:33 PM · Report this
yeah, the 2nd was a clunker. the 3rd was probably the strongest.
Posted by skimming on April 29, 2010 at 1:11 PM · Report this
Grrrrrrr! Why does everything have to have a clear, cut and concise meaning? Did it move you? Did you not get lifted on the haunting, mournfulness of the melodies that rose above the pristine plains supporting those clean, pine crates? Was the sense of promise, foreboding and loss not palpable? The "tiny doubts" and vagueness of the west were the eighth cast member on that stage and I felt that it played through very strongly. God forbid we are confused by performance art. Don't go see performance art if you want it to always tell you what it's about! Finding questions is just as human if not more so as getting answers. Dare yourself to be challenged, don't just dismiss it as some obscure piece of blurry music theater. If YOU were about to charge off into hostile Native infested, completely foreign and uncertain territory wouldn't you look dour? The harmonies that emerged from the long stretches of open space painted by the minimalism on stage snapped the dry attitude into a sharp contrast and, for me, served as a window into the soul of excitement of the piece. How can you know the heat without the cold? As for the second act, if you want to be comfortable, go to the ballet. I like to be challenged by performances and "West" delivered on that front in spades. This was the first time ever that I'd seen "Awesome" in any context and I want see anything else they create in the future.
Posted by Loved "WEST" on April 29, 2010 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Nation 8
I guess I'm confused.

Did you not enjoy Societas de Raffaello Sanzio or Cynthia Hopkins, over the past couple of seasons at OtB? If not, I can completely understand your point of view, and our tastes just differ.

Posted by Nation on April 29, 2010 at 3:31 PM · Report this
What exactly about the second act didn't work for you? Were you paying attention to the music AT ALL or is everyone just pissed that "Awesome" isn't doing the usual "Awesome" thing? Oh no, don't let them exercise artistic exploration and do a meditation on western expansion! We want them to forever do those crazy little upbeat ditties they always do, because that is what we are comfortable with. No surprises please, unless they fit into the mold we made for "Awesome". They received a standing ovation in Calgary on Thursday....just saying.
Posted by monkeywhat on May 1, 2010 at 11:48 AM · Report this
Everyone associated with the band is smart, talented, and incredibly likable. Everyone loves the boys of "Awesome." We all know they spent most of two years on this mess, hence the loyal crowds and the standing ovations. But I agree: this show was a formless, pointless mess with a few beautiful pictures. It had nothing to say and, even thought it sounded pretty, it took a long time to say it. Thanks, Mr. Schmader, for having a go at one of Seattle's sacred cows.
Posted by and seriously: the second act. on May 6, 2010 at 11:24 AM · Report this
The only interaction between a settler of the West and a native person involved a Native American (played by a non-Native American, if that matters) shooting a white man in the BACK, SCALPING him, then singing a repetative dirge about the rain falling down from the sky (as opposed to rain falling from another source with a different trajectory) while wearing the dead man's scalp as a HAT.
Posted by It Said Something to Me on May 6, 2010 at 11:44 AM · Report this
I just didn't get it. It felt like it was unfocused, but I can't even imagine trying to divine what their development process was like.

I'm all for a mashup of oddities if that was their goal, but I didn't get that vibe. Instead it was bits that went on too long and no clear experience that kept my attention.

If they're going to continue making Art (capital "A"), they would be well-served with a cut-throat direction that trims away the meandering and helps them focus their ideas. Otherwise it seemed like a show that was too long and probably very expensive.
Posted by stillme on May 6, 2010 at 10:45 PM · Report this
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