Repeat After Me, “Hand2Mouth Rocks”
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
“In 86 minutes, I will know exactly how I feel about being an American.”
Well, maybe not exactly, but as I left the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center after Hand2Mouth’s crazed, karaoke reflection on our country, I did feel a bit more hopeful about the good ol’ US of A. Though, I’m not quite sure why. It might have been the music- seemingly plucked from the radio during a random spin of the dial. It could have been the energy of the cast- who, at times, emoted a genuine air of patriotism. Whatever it was, it felt good.
The only real reference I have to describe this show is the ubiquitous Broadway jukebox musical. Think of the staged Billy Joel box set: Movin’ Out (or whatever it’s called), or Mamma Mia, based on the music of ABBA… etc. etc. Except, Hand2Mouth takes the genre, doses it with some clandestine psychotropics and sends it into a high school talent contest to see what happens.
The main thesis of Repeat After Me appears to be that, as Americans, we tend to define ourselves, identify ourselves and allow ourselves to be moved by our indigenous music. Hand2Mouth’s chaotic and sometimes messy program is a meditation on what happens when we give ourselves up completely to the catharsis of our national soundtrack.
The songs belted out (crushed, deconstructed, reassembled) by the wide-eyed cast are less performances of old favorites than frightening exorcisms of the pop daemons of American radio. These are the songs that infect you, whose choruses crawl deep into your brain where they spin lazily. These songs are the guilty pleasures. The country tune that you love, without irony. The summer jam that provides the thrumming backdrop a day at the beach. But these songs do not just inhabit us, we also inhabit them. We hear our own voices and guilty consciences and wistful memories in the lyrics. We see ourselves, “In the sweet, sweet summertime… with autumn closin’ in.”
These songs create tableaus in our mind, and the cast of Repeat After Me brings these to life, before tearing holes in the picture to show us the kind of desperation, anxiety and hope that lay beneath the surface. This seems to be a common concern in the program- stripping away the façade to see what’s beneath. At one point the actors, promenading to the front of the stage of the tune Johnny Cash’s “Las Vegas,” tear off their various wigs to reveal themselves. It’s an astute of allegory of Las Vegas itself- really just a desert full of plain boxes with extraordinary facades.
It must have been difficult for this young company to not fill the show with cynicism and irony. There are certainly some ironic moments, but there are moments that are incredibly touching and honest. In one such instance, a cast member inhabits a good ‘ol boy who is worried about his son. He vacillates between being a hard workingman for his wife and child and a hard partying cowboy. He is pulled between the two poles, torn between what we want men in America to be and what we expect of them. The scene is played with incredible care- both funny and heartbreaking.
All of this is helped, of course, by the skills of DJ Brokenwindow, who mixes the music live on stage. There are times that he is sloppy but he is more often dead on with his mixing, creating a fairly smooth ribbon of sound for the cast to follow.
All this plus balloons, beer, confetti, a gorgeous cast and some wonderful musical moments.
Hand2Mouth uses their 86 minutes to rip American music out of context and tell a story about being proud, loud, drunk and tender. That is… to be an American at the beginning of this millennium.