REVIEW: Trustus Theatre’s Tail! Spin!

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by: Kyle Petersen

Tail! Spin! is quite the appropriate beginning to Trustus Theatre’s 32nd season. Smart, raunchy, irreverent, and curious, it takes the audience’s incessant interest in the current political season and steers it into the recent past to take stock of the peculiar sexual preoccupations and peccadillos that seem to come along with politics.

The play, written (or assembled?) by Mario Correa, uses exclusively previous statements, interviews, dialogue, and social media content to tell the stories of the sex scandals of four politicians: Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who was caught soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom; New York Representative (and failed NYC mayoral candidate) Anthony Weiner, who has a sexting addiction; Florida House Representative Mark Foley, who had inappropriate relationships with many underage male pages; and our own South Carolina Governor (and current House Representative) Mark Sanford, who handled a dopey extra-marital affair in the most clumsy way possible.

The premise is a challenging one, particularly given that just five actors (and only one woman) are tasked with bringing to life these rapid-fire, often fragmented narratives to life without sacrificing any comic timing, but Trustus, as usual, shines. Although a more-barebones and unadventurous set and sound design than is typical for the theatre, the acting and directing here is top-notch, elevating itself clearly above the world of SNL sketches and late night show fodder with which it shares similar DNA in its witty and puerile subject matter. Stann Gwynn delivers a note-perfect, awkwardly fastidious Larry Craig alongside Kevin Bush as the undercover agent who arrests him and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler as his hilariously in-denial wife. Both Bush and Rodillo-Fowler end up being MVPs throughout, darting through such a dizzying array of roles that makes the play double as an acting showcase. Bush’s nuanced, complex take on Mark Foley, the lone sinning politician which inspires some sympathy here, is perhaps the best moment, and the fact that he couples it with scene-stealing imitations of Stephen Colbert and the South Carolina State House Speaker is fairly incredible.

For her part, Rodillo-Fowler has to tackle every single female role in the piece, often leading to her having to literally interview herself as both Barbara Walter and Jenny Sanford (her Walters impression is priceless). While she delivers a remarkably graceful performance given the circumstances (there were a couple of moments where clarity suffered, although the writing seems the most likely culprit), the fact that the play doesn’t add a second female actor is either an intentional nod to the relative absence of women in politics or a reification of the boys club-default that exists in both political and comedic worlds. Either way, it would have been nice for her to have some help.

Joseph Eisenreich as Anthony Weiner and Clint Poston as Mark Sanford also perform nicely as both main characters and reliable sidemen—Eisenreich in particular comes in handy as he moves from the lascivious braggadocio of Weiner to the innocent adolescent that Bush’s Foley is obsessed with. Neither plays their main parts to type—Eisenreich is more All-American boyish in the Marco Rubio mold than the wiry, nervy real-life Weiner, while Poston plays Sanford with every bit of the principled conviction and quaint narcissism of our former governor, but without the aw-shucks bizarreness that characterized many of his even less-famous press appearances.

Director Jason Stokes, along with his top-rate cast, deserve credit for honing the fragmented give-and-take nature of this challenging script into clear punch lines and playfully subversive juxtapositions. You could see the play falling apart if performed by a lesser crew, instead of delivering two hours of solid laughs.

As far as any larger meaning or political statement, I’m not sure if I quite see one beyond the fact that it’s our current, sexually-charged and politically-saturated media culture  that makes this collage-like production possible, and that the hypocritical positions that we demand (or that politicians demand of themselves?) is a historical reality that gets endlessly repeated.

The bottom line, though, is that if the all-too-painful comedic reality of the current Presidential race has you down, Tail! Spin! serves as a reminder that absurdity is par for the course for our political landscape, and we might as well laugh at it.

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Ony’s Bands – Los Perdidos

Ony Ratsimbaharison is a local musician, writer, and blogger and member of the band fk. mt. Jasper asked Ony to write a regular feature profiling local bands — getting at what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it’s going. If you’d like to see your band profiled in What Jasper Said, send Ony a message at JasperProjectColumbia@gmail.com with the word ONY in the subject heading and she’ll, you know, take it under consideration.

With everything so in flux, it seems rare nowadays for bands to stay together for very long, at least in the local music spectrum. But Los Perdidos, local instrumental surf band, is a rare exception to this pattern, as they formed in 1995. Their songs typically convey a darker form of surf, more along the lines of 80’s post punk. The band consists of Andy Collins (guitar), Byron Chitty (bass), Thomas Edenton (guitar), and Josh Robinson (drums). Over the years, the lineup has remained fairly consistent, aside from the recent addition of Robinson.

The landscape of the music world, and across all the arts, has changed drastically since the 90’s, with the internet and social media making it easier to share one’s work with folks around the world. Before Facebook event invites, getting people out to shows involved flyers and word-of-mouth. When Los Perdidos first formed, Collins and Chitty put an ad in the Free Times to find a drummer, something still possible today but less likely with the internet’s ease of use. Booking a tour or a last minute show is way more likely now with a network of bookers and promoters available at our fingertips.

Despite these changes, Los Perdidos has managed to remain constant and present in our scene. In the following interview, Collins explains what it was like forming in the 90’s and how things are now. They will be joined by Boo Hag and Jackson Spells at the September 18 book release of Tommy Bishop’s The Incredibly Strange ABCs at Tapp’s Art Center.

 

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What was it like starting out in the 90s, compared to now? For example, how do you think technology and social media have shaped the music world and our scene?

My first reaction to that is to say that technology–Facebook, Myspace, etc.–has made it easier for bands to market themselves, but I think it’s actually, like it’s always been, word-of-mouth more than anything else that makes people aware of your existence. Having said that, technology makes some things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. For instance, we have a song in rotation on North Sea Surf Radio in Amsterdam, so people in Europe end up finding our Facebook page, which is obviously something that would have been much less likely in 1995.

Also, in the ’90s there was a neo-surf revival of sorts, which we were a part of. We’d play shows with The Space Cossacks, for instance, or The Penetrators–lots of instrumental bands. There still are some, but the herd has been thinned a bit.

Has your sound evolved at all since forming, and if so how?

It seems all bands, over a long period of time, move inevitably towards increasing complexity and slickness in their songwriting. Maybe it’s because they get better at playing their instruments, or because of some nameless obligatory urge to change and “grow.” We’ve sometimes experimented with more complex songwriting, sometimes with positive results, but we never stray too far from a straightforward, rock ‘n’ roll approach to music. Sometimes less is better.

Has anyone in the band been in any other local bands?

Yes, quite a few–Ghettoblaster, The Spanish Tonys, Felonious Swank…and maybe half a dozen others.

Can you describe what your music is like?

Plangent twang and mutant surf rock.

Who/what are some of your main musical influences?

I can’t speak for everyone, but my main formative influences are from the ’80s: Joy Division, Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, Bowie, Eno, Devo, Minor Threat, etc. A lot of that seeps into our songs, intentionally or otherwise.

How do you feel about Columbia’s music scene as a whole?

It’s cyclical, it seems, with crests and troughs.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We’re really looking forward to playing the book launch with Tommy. The invitation he created for one of our Christmas shows at The Whig (pictured below) was sublime–a pack of wolves attacking candy canes. The man is brilliant.

los-perdidos

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REVIEW OF MONICA MCCLURE’S “CONCOMITANCE” BY OLIVIA MORRIS

 

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Monica Mcclure’s new chapbook, Concomitance (Counterpath), is both a laundry list of McClure’s own time-consuming preening rituals and a careful celebration of the process of reinvention.  She has several lines solely devoted to explaining the lipstick she’s wearing, her skin care routine, or debating how to part her hair.  Additionally, each poem is named for a city, divulging the connection she feels to them and the effect it has on her beauty routine.

ConcomitanceMonica McClure

McClure examines the idea of clothing as tangible fiction, comparing fashion to poetry.  Just like in poetry, there is both structure and simplicity to fashion, indications about the author and their influences.  Both exist only for their own sake.  Poetry and fashion alike have a complex history that builds on itself.  McClure considers herself like a documentarian, or a critic, peeking into the status and invented status that comes with clothing.  Like a Bolshevik theorizing about labor and class, she examines the role of capitalism in poetry and fashion, both marketable yet without a tangible utility.

 

McClure shifts between deeply personal anecdotes or philosophical musings on gender performity, other times she slips into advertisement-style writing about products.  She spends several lines talking about her makeup routine, or the dress she’s wearing.  Somewhat frustratingly, the references to makeup and fashion seem unending.  They gnaw away at the reader, making them search for substance.  They remind us of repetition, of the constant and unending effort that must be put into beauty. However, there is also a peacefulness in it.  That routine is a means of mediation, of easy and simple nothingness.

 

This comforting mindlessness is not a new topic.  James Wright’s famed “Lying in a Hammock at at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” has been widely reviewed, analyzed, and assigned in college poetry classes.  He romanticizes the beauty of his friend’s farm, even describing horse droppings as “golden stones.”  His famous closing line “I have wasted my life” indicates his own desire, however temporary, to continue laying there is his own nostalgic oasis.

 

This is similar to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”, where the speaker worships the physical beauty of the a statue, ending his poem with a call, “you must change your life.”  One poem is a celebration of the therapeutic power of doing nothing, another a fixation on the undeniable power of beauty.  In a realm of fiction that has largely ignored women, McClure uses the same lense to take an unglamourous look at the great expenditure of femininity.  She marks a new shift in poetry, away from the Greek-nature revival of the 1990s.  McClure has a more modern, daring approach — one that strips itself of affected erudition.  There is a bravery in her work, being a poet unabashed at her femininity.  She treats fashion as a topic worthy of study, instead of an unliterary, unintelligent consequence of civilization.

 

McClure’s work is available in print and ebook through the Counterpath Press website.

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