Despair's Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio: Grooving Among the Shreds of Shadow

Local Arts Reviews


Despair's Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio: Grooving Among the Shreds of Shadow

The Vortex,

through January 29

It's the waking dreamscape of a lonely, abandoned man capering through the confines of a house as jumbled and tattered as the ruins of his mind. It's soliloquy and song, music and mysticism, even a scattered meditation on the tenuous phantoms of audio frequency. Or infrequency, as the case may be.

Kirk Smith, in his Despair's Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio, directed by Bonnie Cullum, moves us through a dark night of the soul of a certain Constantinopolous: a man whose memories both nurture and terrorize, who is rebuilding within his heartbreak house an antique radio through which he receives broadcasts from ... somewhere. From the dead, from the lost, from a particularly fevered land of Nod. And all of these 'casts for him, for insomniacal Connie, are in lieu of the dreams his unabating wakefulness will not allow.

It's a dark and jarring story that Smith and his vehicle weave for us, a sad clown's dance through the gory alleys of allegory. If you can imagine U2's Bono, say, wrapping around his songs A Narrative Cloak Sewn From the Discarded Raiment of Madness and Regret, well, it's like that. It would even be phrased that way.

Smith is in fine form, belting out and whispering songs on a series of vintage microphones, wielding a variety of instruments that include guitar and broom and crowbar, and backed by the ubermenschen talents of Alex Krigsfeld on piano, Michael Werst on cello, and Ken Burchanal on guitar. Smith's Connie is singing about divinity, it often seems, or at least the divinity of human love. And his voice -- like that of an angry Seraph, or of a particularly golden-throated demon -- can rip its way right into your heart. Especially with the band he's assembled, especially with lyrics like: "One breath in/One smile/One breath out/One bright angel was mine for a while ... "

Meanwhile, back at the theatre, the show continues with the superlative assistance of Patricia Wappner and Art Davis and others, all ragged phantoms moving through a set (by Ann Marie Gordon) like something cobbled from Dave McKean's murkier nightmares, illuminated by the flickering lumens of yet another eerie and effective Jason Amato design.

The little story-within-the-story near the play's center, the tale of Rotandapot and his bartered reflection, is like a chapter from one of those beautifully illustrated books you'd find in the bedroom of an older child -- especially if that older child was Wednesday Addams. And if such things and their staged elaborations are your idea of a good time, or if you just have an understandable jones to take in the newest songs of Austin's own Kirk Smith, then you'll soon find yourself in this Radio's audience at The Vortex. Grooving among the shreds of shadow in the world according to St. Connie.

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