The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, August 17, 2001, Arts

Tornado in Slo Mo: Gone With ...

Hyde Park Theatre,

Through August 18

Running Time: 2 hrs

"Listen long enough," writes poet David Jewell, "and everybody is interesting and a little destroyed." Some people have little trouble getting others to listen to the point where interest is earned -- because their stories are so damned fresh and compelling, or because those stories are told in ways that are compelling. By adding music, for instance. Tell your stories in the form of songs, add some decent instrumentation, and relate them in a (at least) passable voice, and, well, who's not gonna listen?

And if you have all that already, why add more?

Why translate an albumful of words and music into a narrative-linked show for the stage? Why not just perform those songs as they've been performed on the album, like -- well -- like everybody else does?

Could be you have something important to add. Could be the songs just don't quite cut the mustard all by themselves.

Neither of those, though, is the case for Tornado in Slo Mo, the autobiographical show by Darcie Deaville, based on her album of the same name (from Redwing Music) and directed by David Yeakle for Tongue and Groove Theatre. Deaville's voice isn't just passable; Deaville's voice is the stuff music careers are built from. Clear, bright, thrilling -- all the adjectives that follow when you hear a professional singer doing her thing so well; and even more so for her lower range. And instrumentation? Criminy. Deaville has a mastery of the fiddle and the guitar that more than matches her vocal abilities, the kind of meta-Atkins fingering you expect only from savants with a couple extra digits on each seasoned hand. And her songs -- both traditional and original compositions -- ply the plaintive blues à la Joni Mitchell -- with a saving not-gonna-take-it-anymore grace to more than a few of them. It's the kind of stuff you might hear on, say, say, when KGSR is playing the best they have to offer.

Which is why this one-woman show at Hyde Park Theatre left me pretty cold: Because this album's worth of beauty is wrapped in a narrative cloth woven, and not well woven, from bits of Deaville's tumultuous past. I'm sure there are still ways to communicate compellingly about the sexual abuse and drug abuse and other abuses of one's younger days (cf. the ouvres of Mary Gaitskill or Julie Doucet or Paula Vogel), no matter how many previous examples of same one may have already willingly or unwillingly parsed … but this ain't it.

If I were a friend of Deaville's and she was telling me this stuff over coffee or beer, I'd be glad to listen. That's what friends are for, after all: to aid, sometimes, the catharsis that Just Talking About It can often bring. But it's not something a public audience is for. A public audience is for a performance. A public audience is for, especially, a well-crafted and well-performed exploration of whatever subject (the Roman Empire, blow jobs, Silver Age comics, the parasitic habits of various species of botfly, etc.) an artist wishes to present. And the writing and performance of the between-song material in Tornado in Slo Mo falls way short of compelling -- for us strangers in the audience, at least.

Which is annoying. Because paradoxes, in general, are annoying. And the album from which this show is expanded -- an album whose power is drawn in part from Deaville's same personal history -- is an album I will purchase and play so often that the synthetic ruby in my CD player may disintegrate from overuse. I mean, it's that good, okay? So I'm left wondering why its creator (and director Yeakle) chose to condemn it to the fate of what's currently sharing a stage with Ann Marie Gordon's marvelous set design.

Critics, they say, just Don't Get It sometimes. Okay, then. I'm Not Getting It right now. Tornado in Slo Mo. Maybe … the wind took it?

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