Review: ‘koma’ at Solecalibur

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It’s 2 a.m. His mind is racing, overwrought with memories of situations, conversations, and images of her. Music and film merge with poetry, rap, and movement to explore one half-hour inside one man’s anguished psyche in Solecalibur’s koma – “a sound spectacle with a visual component” – created, directed, and edited by Tommy Butler, with Assistant Direction by Jordan Friedman. The provocative mood piece, developed over four years in collaboration with a talented ensemble of artists and performers (including several members of the sensational Found Theater Company), is emotive and imaginative, evoking the surreal sensibility of a haunting dream.

Phoebe Schaub. Photo by Steve Sachs.

Phoebe Schaub. Photo by Steve Sachs.

Sean Lally is him, Phoebe Schaub is her; they could be any couple. We see and hear snippets of their time together, both good and bad, through the perspective of his agitated thoughts. Butler alternates between full color, black-and-white, and a demi-grisaille palette to convey recollections that are sometimes vivid, sometimes fading, often gray, but occasionally bright. He employs sequences of familiar repeated actions, interspersed with naturalistic visions, metaphorical imagery, and movement-based fantasies (performed by Lally and Schaub, with their Found colleagues Kerry Brind’Amour, Adrienne Hertler, Alison Hoban, and Joe Palinksy), all enhanced by Will Jonez’ evocative lighting design. There are recurrent disquieting scenes with water, fire, and ashes, which instill in us the fear that this might not end well. Tension builds, his sorrow borders on obsession; he “can’t forget it.”

Sean Lally. Photo by Steve Sachs.

Sean Lally. Photo by Steve Sachs.

Original music, written and recorded first (prior to filming) by Butler on guitar and vocals, Chris Ingram on bass, Andrew Mantuano on guitar, and Anthony Martinez-Briggs on vocals, with additional vocals by Lally and Schaub, provides the expressive aural framework and inspiration for koma’s visual content. Mixed and mastered by Mike Pechter and Butler, the songs define the characters and emotions, from the angry “Get It Right” to the regretful “Let It Fly.” The driving music is enhanced by real-world ambient noise, Michael Dylan Ferrara’s poetry, and spoken-word dialogues and monologues invented and delivered by the two leads.

Along with the production’s affecting theme and delivery, the technical mastery of Butler and his team is evident in the clarity and layering of sound, sharp visual focus, and seamless synchronicity between the two. Butler also impresses with his use and command of a full range of filmic devices, including looping, double exposures, split-screen images, and split-second transitions.

Supplementing the show are a CD of the soundtrack and a richly-designed book, Ruin Us Instead, which beautifully combines documentation with artistry. To enhance koma’s sense of intimacy and to capture the protagonist’s physical and psychological isolation, Solecalibur limits the size of the audience to small groups of five to twenty people, enabling us to view the visual projection up close, while listening to the soundscape through personal headsets. It all works; we really feel it.

Running time: 35 minutes, without intermission.

Photo by Tommy Butler; design by Dan Lee.

Photo by Tommy Butler; design by Dan Lee.

koma plays through April, 2017, at Solecalibur. Contact Tommy Butler for the dates and location of upcoming showings.

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