[Ode to] Little Brown Mushrooms Oct 7, 2016

by Michelle Peñaloza

Review by Michelle Peñaloza, OtB Writers Corps Ambassador

Alan Sutherland’s Little Brown Mushrooms is part inside joke, part memoir-dreamscape, part praise poem, part science lesson, part how-to, naturalist lecture, part self-help lesson, part life affirmation, and part Public Service Announcement on the merits of psychedelics, experimentation, and the outdoors.

The set of Little Brown Mushrooms reads like Willy Wonka-cartoon-naturalist-meets-advanced-animatronics-meets-60s-liquid-light-show-meets-John Malkovich-Old-Man-Alice-in-Wonderland. A delightful aesthetic that complemented the choreography and music well.

At times, I craved more nuance from Little Brown Mushrooms. The relationship between the spoken language of the piece and the language of its choreography, often felt like a one-to-one ratio, from speech to movement and vice versa. I appreciate the effort toward clarity and continuity in the spoken parts of the performance, but would have appreciated more trust in my ability to get there myself.

I’ll confess: I’ve never experienced psychedelic mushrooms firsthand and I’m not terribly familiar with butoh or Sutherland’s body of work. At times, this lack of knowledge seemed to keep me arm’s length from the piece as I sat among the knowing laughter and tittering of some of the audience around me. There were a few self-referential, esoteric moments that felt indulgent, taking me out of the whimsy, which I would’ve like to begin and stay with throughout the whole performance. But, y’know. I should probably just do some mushrooms.   

For me, the highlights of Little Brown Mushrooms were the set pieces and the performances of Douglas Ridings as The Chicken and Crow Nishimura, along with Markeith Wiley, as The Boys. I won’t give too much away, but here are some phrases I scrawled in the dark of the theatre:

brilliant chicken

cabbage patch pulp fiction dance on mushrooms

here is sound being made by the silent body

the beauty of echo

egg begets egg begets egg



Overall, there is much to be delighted by in Little Brown Mushrooms, enough to inspire the desire to explore both psychedelic mushrooms (I shall always remember: brown top white stem bruises blue) and more of Sutherland’s body of work. The ardent wonder and delight Sutherland holds for his subject is apparent in every aspect of Little Brown Mushrooms. Consider the power of this PSA / science lesson / life affirmation effective and go see for yourself.