Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Heather Woodbury: Tale of 2 Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks 

House lights dim. It’s dark. Inky black. The suggestion of a woman emerges from stage right as eyes begin to adjust themselves. A voice permeates the auditorium as the spotlight illuminates its source. "Where is the bus?" it says, over and over and over again.

Thus it begins, Heather Woodbury’s account of the lives that were forever altered when the Brooklyn Dodgers decided to pick up and move to Los Angeles in the late 1950's. This is a tale that spans a continent and several decades, a tale that lays bare the connections between Mexican immigrants and ex-pat dot comers in Korea, a tale of parallels and infinite connections.
The docu-drama, takes place on an unadorned stage, occupied by two mic stands, a chair, a stool, and a tape outline of a baseball diamond. What the stage lacks in visual ameneties, Woodbury fills with the voices of the twenty-plus characters who drive the piece.

Track One:
Prayerscape in Diamond Shape

In Track One: Prayerscape in Diamond Shape, Woodbury weaves about the baseball diamond configuration, introducing a majority of the story’s characters by offering the audience tiny panels of the complex and ornate stain glass windows of each character’s life.

Gabriela Zorita Hauptman is introduced at the pitcher’s mound, three-days dead, sprawled out on her kitchen floor. She is offering up her thoughts and questions to God, waiting for the cats to stop pawing her hair, and for her grandson to emerge from his room and deal with her corpse.
As the hour unfolds, Gabriela’s post-mortem lamentations are interlaced with the letters of Miriam Klinger Tromble Flieshman: a young social activist living in 1940's California, and with the cooped-up thoughts of Manuel "Manny" Vasquez: Gabriela’s 19-year-old grandson whose passion for life is expressed through the calculated spinning of grooved vinyl discs under diamond needles.

Track One is disorienting – a sucker-punch to the solar plexus of beautiful language and disturbingly honest characters, many of whom float freely through time and space. But amidst the chaos of voices and street noises, the connections begin to reveal themselves and a type of narrative begins to emerge – not necessarily a plot, but something universally tangible.

Track 2:
Hallucination Map: Brookl(y)(a)ngeles

In stark contrast to the closing moments of Track One – wherein the speakers pumped out layers of voices, music, and street noises, with Woodbury spinning about the diamond giving voice to Manny and a mentally ill homeless man attempting to scale a religious obsessional junk sculpture of his own making – Track Two begins with the focused interrogation of Angela De Mayo, a 13-year old New Yorker accused of beating an old Jewish woman within an inch of her life.

As the two New York City Cops try to trick her into slipping up, Angela unnerves them with her account of her whereabouts at the time of the beating – Coney Island. Angela’s description is laced with second by second verbal re-enactments of all she had seen and witnessed that day: the pizza, the funnel cakes cooking in fresh grease, the family squabbles, and the barkers attempting to ensnare passers-by into the snake woman booth.

This second track is a less chaotic, more focused development of character and place. Gabriela’s youth is laid bare, and audiences become privy to the role that Miriam plays in the intellectual and emotional growth of both Angela and Gabriela.

Track Three:
Colinas de los Suenos: Dream Hill

It is 2001 and Angela sits in backseat of a cab adorned with Brooklyn Dodger’s memorabilia, on her way to visit Miriam in the hospital. In this act, parallels become more obvious, and motivations for movement across time and space become more translucent. In act three the art and ability of Woodbury as a storyteller is revealed.

This is difficult ...

As the tracks unfold the story begins to inform itself. The latter pieces contain residue that glues together the patchwork of the former pieces. Synopsis become silly when the experience that each piece is, is only in so much as it is a part of the whole. Track Three is a result of Tracks One and Two, as much as it is a part of them. Detailed efforts at synopsis become circular and cyclical in a way that is dizzying.

Having said that, here are two questions to ponder before heading out to see Woodbury tonight ...

Were the tracks numbered for a reason?
And ...
Would you ever read start a novel you intended to enjoy by opening to chapter five?

I don't know if the people that post to this blog have anyting to do with PICA, but it sure was a shame that Tale of 2Cities (and perhaps the whole festival) was so poorly publicized and consequently poorly attended. PICA must have forked over some considerable money for the snappy inserts in the weeklies, but while they might have looked nice it was pretty hard to actually find out crucial info that might help someone actually attend a performance.

While Tale of 2Cities may not quite have been the tour-de-force that Woodbury's "Whatever" was, it was still something that a lot of Portlanders missed out on through no fault of their own. As a Portlander, I was embarrassed that we couldn't provide an audience of more than 30 people (on Friday and Saturday nights) for such an original and thought-provoking piece. I'm sure Woodbury will write off Portland as a cultural backwater and we'll not have the opportunity of seeing her next work.
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