The Little Hours/All The Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died Before Opening Japan But Didn’t (Online review)

The Little Hours/All The Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died Before Opening Japan But Didn’t (Online review)

It must be national long titles week or something. After The Giant Pacific Maritime Octopus School a few days ago and The Girl Who Was Very Good At Lying yesterday I thought I might have exhausted that particular vein. That was until I came across one of  Theater In Quarantine’s latest (see below). TiQ is the company which has taken working within a limited performance space to new heights (or should that be widths) by utilising a hollowed out closet. They can always be relied upon to come up with something totally left field. I’ve made a point of visiting their You Tube Channel and reviewing their work on a number of occasions now and thought I had pretty much covered their work off. However, I found that since the last time I dropped by no less than four new pieces have appeared in their portfolio; most offerings are short but are densely packed. I’ve usually watched their material in pairs – anymore than that and your brain is liable to explode as it is subjected to a barrage of visual images which would not look out of place for a video installation in an art gallery. Anyway….

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First up was The Little Hours by Caridad Svich. I know this isn’t going to be very helpful, but I’d be hard pushed to say what this “play” is all about so I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “appears” quite a bit in the next few sentences. It appears that we are dealing with not one closet performance space but two although they do seem to merge and unmerge from time to time or are superimposed one upon the other – given the video is filmed as live this is just one of many quite astounding things. We appear to be listening to a tale about a pair of poets (TiQ regular Joshua William Gelb and Keith McDermott) one of whom becomes ill and the other is exhorted to preserve his memory. We appear, from the spoken dialogue, to be in the era of the American beat poets more concerned with images than explanatory text. This theory is supported by grainy black and white footage of New York in that particular era but denied by some other later cultural referencing which is too complex to go into here. With its use of fluid almost balletic movement it appears to be as much a physical theatre piece as well as a cerebral one. It even appears to be a nightmare or drug/alcohol induced dreamscape – you choose, because you will be as right as I am….or wrong.

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TiQ_NG_IzumiThe second piece has a title almost as time consuming as the play. Called All The Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died Before Opening Japan But Didn’t, it definitely wins the prize for the piece with the longest title that I’ve watched over the last fifteen months. Matthew Perry is, of course, Chandler from TV hit show Friends though what he had to do with Japan I had no idea –oh, hold on, turns out there’s another Matthew Perry! This one was responsible for encouraging feudalistic Japan into the modern era but that is only partly what this piece is really about. Turns out that said Commodore Perry was responsible for other acts of cultural aggression and appropriation and the play’s writer Julia Izumi is basically constructing a satirical revenge piece which will give him his just deserts. The various contemplated methods of possible (though not probable) endings to his life start realistically enough with things like yellow fever but soon become increasingly ridiculous – a random rock falling from the sky, a splinter which causes massive bleeding, arsenic (and old lace), abduction by a pterodactyl and so on. Animation combined with the closet restricted acting by Gelb, again, as Perry becomes a riot of ideas and invention which had me laughing consistently. The second half is a more sober affair as Gelb/Perry falls into a disquisition with Izumi (represented on screen by typeface) about the whole moral and philosophical question of colonisation and its repugnant legacy. Though less entertaining it is an equally sound way to make the serious points which the piece wants us to understand. And Gelb shows he is as adept at comedy as he is at poetic angst.

Hand on heart I enjoyed the second piece but the first? Not so much. I admired it but didn’t really like it whereas the second was a hoot but still managed to teach me a lot. I’ve still got a couple of pieces of TiQ’s work to catch up on, but I’ll return once I’ve given my brain a chance to reset. If you’re new to this group I’d still recommend starting with The 7th Voyage Of Egon Tichy as much the most accessible way to get into the weird and wonderful place which is closetworld. I’m  now beginning to see why C.S. Lewis set Narnia at the back of one!

The Little Hours and All The Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died Before Opening Japan But Didn’t are available via Theater In Quarantine’s You Tube channel – click here

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For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)

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