About four or so years ago, I took a CD and a chamber play from the box-of-things-to-review in the Martlet’s office with the promise to write up a review and send it in.
Two years ago, I graduated. Tonight, the CD and the play still sit on my desk. So these reviews are a story about my inability to finish a to-do list or work without a deadline. They are also a story about how stubbornly honest I am. I made a promise. Here I am fulfilling it.
Chad Michael Stewart’s Machete Avenue
(Save me from myself, say the lyrics, and I agree.) When I first picked up this CD, with its darkened image of a person seemingly drowning as roots reach out through his cheeks, his hands and the hollows of his eyes, I was worried it’d be full of screaming metal tracks attempting to summon angry parents into their teenager’s basement bedrooms. (Please don’t fade.) A CD like that I would have listened to once, written something about how the CD wasn’t for me, and sent off a review within a week. Machete Avenue isn’t like that. (Another blank face calms the angry crowd.)
Machete Avenue exists in the room just beside “I really like this album,” which is to say, there are moments in life when it just feels appropriate (Beautifully broken.) — right for what’s happening in my life. Stewart writes plaintive, sad, spiritual odes to doubt and something which isn’t quite heartbreak, but rather, the loss felt while slowly drifting apart. (I’ve become your sad song.)
(Without hope there is nothing left but empty frames.) With song titles like “Crosses” and “Mercy of Angels,” there is something inescapably Christian about this album, but rather than bursting into praise, it sings the stories of a man in despair. (We have to find a way to let the grace remain.)
Stewart’s emotions are real, raw, and easy to relate to, which is why I keep coming back to these tracks when I need music to share in my darker thoughts. (What takes years to build takes seconds to fall.) After at least four years, I still listen to this CD. And now I can do so without such a lingering sense of guilt.
Tortoise Boy, a chamber play by Charles Tidler
In my defence, not long after I chose this play from the box of items-to-be-reviewed, I was placed in a class with Charles Tidler as my professor. Reviewing his work in a campus newspaper seemed to me to be a tactically and tactfully poor choice at the time. But no more!
Chamber plays are works written as though for the stage, but which are either intended solely to be read, or are intended to be performed in the sparsest manner, without sets or costumes. In Tidler’s case, this play takes the form of stories told by the characters, rather than scenes. Within the first 15 pages we hear innocent voices and dark tales of alcohol and child abuse, murder, and Clifford Olsen. Hints of dialogue litter the pages, with moments of interaction between the characters, but we are never allowed to sit in any present moment or breathe in a scene. Instead, we stay detached, living within the current storyteller’s memories and point of view.
Sing me any song you want to sing except the song I cannot hear.
Like poetry, the play jumps, flits from moment to emotion to moment, all while forcing us to move at the pace of performance.
Does juxtaposing a sad story with a laugh track make it even sadder?
The drowned man is the only one still allowed in the pool.
Many of his phrases are brilliant, witty and poetic. The tales the characters tell have the ability to tug on your heartstrings. But it all comes together like a book of short stories — all with the same author and a similar style. I like the parts, but when the poetry and form separates everything into its own world, a concluding, satisfying sentiment is difficult to find.
And now I can clear a corner of my to-do table, and breathe a little more freely.