Fringe ain’t just theatre, folks. And things that fall into ‘ain’t theatre’ sure can appeal to the theatre folks, as Great Noise Ensemble’s Carnal Node now running at the Harman Center proves.
Great Ensemble’s devotion to this modern age springs from their roots. The group formed in 2005 on craigslist in response to an ad where a devotion to new American music was required. And they have continued to light this torch through today; it is no surprise that the premise of last night’s show reads in its title’s bi-line: Sex, Love and Lies in the Internet Age. The title itself derives from the second piece that includes lyrics pieced together from an unrequited internet love. The lyrics themselves are quite likeable in their heavy handed, sacchrine quality (because really how else are e-mails written?), “Leave me to twist in the wind/Give me back my dignity/Cut me loose so I can go on with my/ shambles of a life.” What I can’t understand is the classic operatic deliverary of the lyrics. The stilted style of soprano Kamala Sankaram prevented the pathos that made the song great from coming through in it’s primary form.
The set-up of the audience was simple enough and meant to highlight the performers; there were chairs lined up to encircle an empty floor in the middle. It did have the feel of a high school assembly, and I half expected sushing to begin as the performers took their place onstage. Luckily, there was nothing tepid in the performances broken down into three parts: Thick Skin, the aforementioned Carnal Node, and Five Machines.
In Thick Skin, a piece in three parts– Scar Tissue, Under My Skin is Numb, and The Best Revenge– the horns poked through the harmony, much like a bubbling below the skin: a portent of the blister about to form. Especially inventive was the use of hangers scraping together to create the quiet scraping away of one’s own ideas as they become more enamored with another. Individual enamel fades, and as the programs notes point out, this evolution of connection becomes a double edged sword, paralleling the duality also attached to the term “Thick Skin.” Carnal node makes clear that the blister must be popped (but it totally sounds better in this presentation).
And Five Machines, structured into five parts, rests itself on the inevitable duality, and the path of acceptance therein. The cello must interact with with the bass in order for the song to build and continue, with the harsh plucking of the cello revealing something of resentment that weaves itself through a jaunty tune into more melancholy and melty strings, and falls into a mad yearning piano (which to me screams Hedda Gabler, but with a modem), with the final installment beginging as sinister, but wielding its way into a groove of its own.
Basically, what we have on our hands is great satisfyingly cerebral stuff with a funkly and appealing technique to back it on up. A solid foray into contemporary bands in DC. If you see them playing somewhere, they’re worth a gander.
- Running Time: 65 minutes
- Tickets: Carnal Node
- Remaining Shows: Sat, July 26 at 9 . Sun, July 27 at 3
- Where: Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center, 610 F Street NW