Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hostage Song

Finding sweetness and humor in ghastly and horrific situations is Clay McLeod Chapman's modus operandi. Stories from a doctor's genitalia being horribly mangled beyond repair by an eggbeater to a child molester with boyish looks enrolling in grade school to befriend new victims are par for the course.

So, it shouldn't be surprising that Chapman's latest, Hostage Song (in collaboration with Kyle Jarrow, recently known for the Obie-winning A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant), is a funny and touching indie rock musical about public beheadings.

And yes, it is very funny, and very touching.

As is the case with many of Chapman's longer works (like last year's volume of smoke), this is not a linear narrative but variations on a singular theme. The play centers around two hostages, Jim, a private contractor and Jennifer, a reporter (played by Paul Thureen and Hanna Cheek respectively) who are tied and blindfolded in a room and waiting to be executed.

While they await their inevitable deaths, they reminisce on their lives, which seem vague and alien (at one point Jim has an imaginary conversation with his wife [Hannah Bos], who admits she can't remember what he looks like). They flirt, pretending to be strangers picking each other up at a bar (Jim jokes about not being able to buy Jennifer a drink because their captors took his wallet). They imagine getting engaged and going home to meet the parents.

Jennifer's father (Chapman) makes the obligatory "personal plea" to his daughter's captors, which results in an actually hilarious scene where Jennifer becomes mortified (she'd rather die horribly than have her father roll out those naked baby photos, AAAAAAAAAGGH!). Jim's son (Abe Goldfarb) offers a monologue early on about surfing the Internet for porn and haphazardly finding a video of his father's execution (this shouldn't be a spoiler; the play makes it pretty clear from the get-go that there's no Deus ex machina that's going to bring Jim and Jennifer home safe and sound).

And yes, very catchy rock songs and power ballads written by Jarrow and performed by Jarrow, Drew St. Aubin, Paul Bates and Jonathan Sherrill are played throughout.

Everyone in the cast is great, with Cheek, Thureen, and Goldfarb being particularly exceptional, emoting the right blend of pathos, humor, and humanity (they're also not bad singers, either).

That Hostage Song is a musical is interesting, because its musical numbers, while both good and appropriate, don't further the story in the way most songs in most conventional musicals do. But as I've been trying to convey, this is absolutely not a conventional play or musical with a conventional linear narrative, so it's fitting that the songs are not used to push plot forward, but to add to the show's exploration of variations on a theme.

In different hands, this material could have been disastrous (which is why Chapman, Jarrow and director Oliver Butler should all be commended for keeping the tone of Hostage Song pitch-perfect throughout). It's profoundly touching and poetic, offering keen insight without once being exploitative or saccharine. Hostage Song constantly makes you unsure if you want to laugh or cry.

Hostage Song is playing at the Kraine Theatre until Saturday, April 26. For tickets go here.

Totally captivated,

James "Detainee" Comtois

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