Jasper is back at Spoleto for a few days and we hit the ground running by catching the last performance of theatre company 1927's The Animals and Children Took to the Streets at noon on Sunday. This show represents some of the best of what arts festivals can bring -- risky, innovative, multidisciplinary performances that carve out new ways of looking at humanity. Granted, shows like this don't always work -- we remember with horror some Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto bombs from the past that will go unnamed. But this time, all the quirkiness and uniqueness anda darkly Dickensian attributes of The Animals and Children Took to the Streets come together to form a creepily satisfying narrative that acknowledges both the best and the worst in all of us.
Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade, who is one fourth of the company 1927 along with her partner, animator Paul Barritt, and actor Esme Appleton with Lillian Henley, who is a musician, Animals and Children brings music, animation, live action, and storytelling together. The stage is a combination screen and set in three parts with sparse moveable scenery carried on and off stage by the actors. There are three windows behind which typically sit the actors -- though, as mentioned, they are mobile as well -- and from their various positions they sing in an almost madrigal manner at key points in the play. But, their primary job is interacting with the Edward Gorey-like animation projected onto the screen/set. The screen/set is identified as a tenement house called Bayou Mansion on Red Herring Street where nothing good ever happens. Full of an assorted cast of perverts ranging from a 21-year-old granny to an underwear thief to a guy who likes to sniff women's bicycle seats; one would think the adults would be to blame for all the bad things that happen on Red Herring Street. But no, when the sun goes down and the shades are drawn, residents lock their doors against the hordes of marauding children who wreak havoc on the community, usually en masse. But one day, a new pair arrive in the neighborhood in the form of a mother and daughter -- described as being "cleaner and prettier" than all the rest -- and they introduce a form of optimism into the atmosphere at the same time that all the children have been subdued via a giant drugged gumdrop. So the story is told of a pessimistic, and somewhat lovelorn, caretaker who is caught in the middle and, through a series of interactions with the audience, must choose either the path of idealism or the path of realism which will bring us to the end of the story.
Even though we caught the final performance of the play at Spoleto, we'll keep the ending to ourselves lest we spoil it for those of you lucky enough to catch this show in one of their next gigs. (The Charleston stop came between a shows in Dijon, France and an upcoming performance in DC.)
We loved the delightful creepiness of the show, the tongue-in-cheek manner in which it was presented, the underlying nastiness of the lines and lyrics -- who doesn’t like songs about living in a "shithole?" -- and the fact that, yet again, animation is proven to be a proper art form for exploring decidedly adult topics of social issues.