by Mike Hoban
IRRESISTIBLE – Directed by Jason Slavick; Written by the LAB Ensemble. Presented by Liars & Beleivers. Performed at Sonia at the Middle East, 10 Brookline Street in Cambridge, MA. One night only, January 24, 2018.
You shoulda been there.
That’s all I can say, because if you weren’t able to attend Liars & Believers’ (LAB) sold out performance of IRRESISTIBLE last week, you’re not going to be able to catch a later performance of this compelling and enormously fun music/dance/theater composite. LAB presents their coLABs for one night only (this is the first since 2015’s Talk To Strangers), which is a shame since it’s so much fun to watch these artists create pieces outside their more traditional performance vehicles.
LAB’s latest installment combined its band of regular actors with a rapper, dancers, an assortment of musicians and a video artist, and performers were given the theme of resistance – and conversely, that which is irresistible – and were free to riff on that theme. Staged at Sonia at the Middle East (the former T.T. the Bear’s Place in Central Square), the audience was engaged immediately upon entering the door, with costumed players interacting with the crowd and even serving up (quite tasty) baked goods.
(Shaina Schwartz energizes fellow commuters)
IRRESISTIBLE was billed as “an immersive, multi-discipline, experience exploring the tumult of our current socio-political environment” but in many respects was more like a throwback to the old “Calvacade of Stars” from the early days of television – albeit with a social conscience. In its day, “Cavalcade” presented a kind of vaudeville show before a live theater audience and broadcast it nationwide. IRRESISTIBLE had the same kind of feel, with a potpourri of inspired acts, including a very funny bit by Shaina Schwartz that could have fit right into 1950’s television, where she parodied a harried housewife attempting to bake the “perfect” chocolate cake for new hubby – in heels and evening dress no less.
More typical of the imaginative vignettes, however, was Schwartz opening piece, one that could have been lifted directly from Talk to Strangers. As disconnected commuters await their subway train, earbuds in place, hypnotized by their phones, she plunks down a portable tap square and rips into a an infectious song and tap number (“I Wanna Take You Away”) that electrified both the commuters and the audience. A second dance number, performed by Veronica Barron and Rachel Wiese, was a mesmerizing piece featuring Barron’s “Be Clean When We Die” spiritual from her 2015 Gather ‘round the Mic recordings. The duo incorporated dance and shadow puppetry into the ritual of hanging laundry on the clothes line to Barron’s gorgeous and soulful vocals, and it was a thing of beauty. Weise also contributed a spoken word piece that was alternately thoughtful and whimsical.
Singer-songwriter Nathan Leigh, Jay Mobley and handful other artists contributed additional musical numbers, but it was Mike (M.I.C.) King who had the most impactful piece of the evening. Using video projected on the large screen behind the stage, King rapped and acted out a scene where an unarmed African-American guy ends up dead after a routine traffic stop. As many times as you hear the stories (seemingly weekly) on the news, it doesn’t prepare you for seeing it depicted onstage, as you know what’s coming and feel powerless to stop it.
(Rebecca Lehrhoff, Sarah Gazdowicz)
But the night was also filled with comedy, highlighted by a “silent film” that was the brainchild of Rebecca Lehrhoff, Sarah Gazdowicz, and Glen Moore. Using the aforementioned screen to convey the silent film’s dialogue, the trio presented a pair of live action Chaplin-esque shorts built around the theme of women’s oppression, and the results were fairly brilliant. In the first, Lehrhoff enrolls in Mrs. Pritchard’s Ladies School for Ladies, under the tutelage of the very proper Gazdowicz, where she learns that ladies don’t read books, but instead balance them on their heads to learn how to “glide like a swan when entering a room”. In the second installment, Lehrhoff attemps to vote in pre-19th Amendment America with the help of Moore, but Gazdowicz is there to try and foil her. Hilarity ensues in both setups.
The sketches are well-written and would fit in well with the Chaplin canon, but it is the physical work by the actors that really distinguishes these pieces. Lehrhoff and Moore’s clowning and physical comedy skills were on display in LABs laugh-filled fairy tale, Yellow Bird Chase last year, and Gazdowicz is every bit their equal here. (Lehrhoff and Gazdowicz are also comic adversaries in imaginary beasts’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea panto, which runs through this weekend at the Charlestown Working Theater).
What made IRRESISTIBLE so thoroughly entertaining was the consistency of the performances. Although space does not permit a mention of every bit in the show, what was really remarkable was that although some pieces were stronger than others, there were no weak links in the entire production, a rarity in a variety show. For those who missed out, you can actually help LAB devise their next show by showing up at the BCA on March 29th, where they’ll be preparing for next full-length production, Beyond, a folklore musical, and will be seeking feedback. For more details, visit here: https://www.liarsandbelievers.com/