The Rock Opera 6-Pack, Take Two – Guess You Had to B There

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Audience applauds at The Rock Opear Six Pack

 A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

Oh, BROS:  There is literally never a time I don’t look forward to being ENTERTAINED by your shows.  Seriously.  I have never left a BROS show without a smile on my face and beer spilled all over the inside of my purse.  Now, several people, including myself and other reviewers for this blog, have thrown a some shade over the cult-like loyalty of the followers of this ragged band.  To critique the BROS is a sensitive subject, for sure.  I think that’s because to do so is really to critique punk culture in this city, of which, let’s face it, they’ve become icons.  If you’re sporting a full sleeve and own a patched vest, you’ve been to a BROS show, speaking generally.  Is it necessarily fair to make the BROS the whipping boys for our issues with counterculture Baltimore?  Nope.  It isn’t.  But there you have it, that’s what you get for being an icon.  “What issues?”, you might ask.  Well, most of them center around diversity and inclusion.  For all of their hug-it-outedness, BROS, both onstage and off, have tended to be a tight monoclan of white dudes (and, to a lesser extent, dudettes – yep, I saw Electric Pharaoh and Danielle Robinette was awesome but she’s one).  But this is a theater review blog, not Mother Jones.  The BROS do theater and they do it in epic fashion, and, what’s more, they are reaching to address some of these concerns.  In his review of A Weekend (which, by the way, you should read if you’re confused about the format, he goes over it there), Achilles said he wanted to see the BROS grow, and maybe he should have waited a week, because I did see them grow with Six Pack, just like I saw them grow with Pharoah.  Read on.

Battle of Blue Apple Crossing by Nairobi Ruby Collins –

Your Souls Won’t Be Here For Long

When, in the semi-darkness of right before lights up, I saw a stagehand carry on a body figure and hang it on a tree, I experienced a flash of fear.  “Oh, Christ,” I thought.  “Please don’t let these children be doing some kind of ‘we are the voices of Baltimore’ Strange Fruit appropriation, a company known primarily for it’s party armor should not be tackling that shit.”  Shows how wrong I was.  Battle of Blue Apple Crossing by Nairobi Ruby Collins is one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve seen from BROS.  Collins (who is black) explicitly says in his director’s note:  “I pitched this play because I wanted to see a BROS play with more African American people and themes.”  This blues-inflected, rock-infected beauty was a hell of a show starter.  Legba, an old man wearing overalls (Nakia Brown) has attracted the attention of both The Devil (Allyson Washington) and the Son of God (Stephon Mernick) who proceed to have an astonishingly short tug of war over his soul.  You think you know how this ends.  I tell you now, you do not.  Brown starts out tentative but ramps up as she loses herself in the music, her searing passion and the gravel stones in her voice are head-whippingly effective.  I was a little puzzled by Allyson Washington’s lack of energy, because I’ve seen her be a  lightening ball in the past (notably in Annex’s recent Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad).  I’m going to go ahead and assume it was a directorial choice from Jason Chimonides and Sarah “Flash” Gorman.  In any case, girl, you’re playing The Devil.  There’s no better time than to chew some fucking scenery (though I did think her flat eyes were helliciously creepy).  Stephon Mernick brings the vocal chops as The Son of God, not to mention some bitchin’ shoes.  This was my favorite piece of the evening, strong as fuck and, challenging even.  Loved it.  Can’t wait to see the full version staged.  This piece, coupled with last weekend’s Determination of Azimuth, which highlighted the accomplishments of overlooked African American mathematician Katherine Johnson, tells me that the BROs are not just throwing a bone to the idea of more racial diversity, they’re actually doing it.   Also – quick shout-out to designer Anna Platis.  Living for the almost bronzed look of the makeup, especially on Washington.  Gorge.

The Legend of Jessie Jean by Matt Casella –

Her Hair Was Bone White

Next up with have Western fantasy The Legend of Jessie Jean.  This came in a close second for me on what truly killed it, B Weekend style, starting with Alex Fine’s excellent cowboy wangwang riffs.  I love it when a plot is really a hook to hang a style and this one had the best shadow work style I’ve ever seen.  Old Henry Bothwell (Ted Alsedek, doing an epic squint) makes a deal with God (religious themes were thick in the air this time) whereby he has to confess the worst thing he’s ever done in an intensely disturbing monologue.  That would be the killing of legendary, titular, cowboy Jessie Jean, the fastest gun in the west.  But not fast enough, I guess.  Post train heist, Bothwell’s group of outlaws start telling campfire stories about Jessie, which range from his trip to hell to his last moments on this green earth.  To that shadow stuff – the campfire stories, and some of the action, are narrated, but performed via actors (Gregory Bowen, Hannah Friedland, John Marra, Erin Reid and Caitlin Rife) utilizing props behind a screen, very similar to how you make a dog eat a butterfly at a sleepover party.  This is so, so, so, cool.  Because of some tricky tricks of perspective, they are able to achieve speeding trains and angel’s wings, over sized deities and spooky memories.  The movement (Judy Kurjan-Frank) is superlative and the cowboy talk is downright hysterical (has anyone ever actually heard beans called Mexican strawberries?).  Dusty Peterson and Gaines Johnston have a grand old time with their rough-as-road-rash cowboys and they both tell a great story, too.  Elizabeth Christmas Taylor is cute as a button as little Luke Dula and her voice kills.  It was around this time in the evening, though, when I wondered if there were going to be any actual women characters (as opposed to women dressed as and playing men) in any of these pieces or if it really was going to be a straight on B Weekend manfest.  Maybe you’ll see Legend and say that ain’t fair, but I give you this:  a twist ain’t a character.  A note to BROS – women can wail just as hard as guys do and they can actually be playing women when they do it, not men or supernatural beings or animals.  I promise.  Admittedly, I’m poking a little here because I hear that there is an full BRO opera coming down the pike not only written by a women but starring them too and when I see that, I’ll eat my words and wet my pants.

Rats by Naomi Davidoff –

Feast on the Man

I’m going to start this one by saying that I sort of want to be Naomi Davidoff when I grow up.  What a cool fucking chick.  She not only created this piece but also did the hand-to-God fucking stunning costumes and she played the guitar in the band.  Rats is no big stretch for the BROS, in fact, out of the three pieces I saw, this one was definitely, solidly in their wheelhouse.  It played a like a big thank you note to the die-hard fans.  Rats is about, uh, rats.  You know, rats.  Rats fucking and fighting and bleeding and just grossing everyone right the fuck out.  Stuart Spittle, The Tale of Incesteaux, Rabid Ratatouille (I’ll stop).  It’s the most one-note of all of the concepts, but is saved from being boring by the fact that it really, really, goes there in terms of the level of disgusting.  Entrails fly about, shit (complete with buzzing flies) adorns the heads of the babies, limbs are torn, garbage is eaten.  The end devolves into a not-incredibly-well-thought-out danceathon (my companion said it was more like we were watching the BROs throw a party instead of a show) but this creature feature will not disappoint, if you like this kind of metal kindergarten, and, really, who doesn’t?

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Sometimes profound, sometimes profane, sometimes pretty fucking psycho.  That’s our BROS.  The Rock Opera 6-Pack was a great format for these boy-oh-boys to show us some new and improved stuff.  I’m hoping some of this forward thinking translates to their next gut busting, full out BRO experience.  I was pleasantly surprised as often as I was noddingly familiar.  I had a really fucking good time.

Running at Creative Alliance until Sunday, May 31st

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