Transition Oct 16, 2009

by Tania Kupczak

It's the easiest thing in the world to talk about how talented Reggie Watts is, so let's just get that out of the way up front: you really get the impression that he can do anything on stage. One of the early vignettes in 'Transition' consists of Watts delivering "an soliloquy" [sic] in the classical style, and not only is the piece hilarious and deft in its send up of the tropes of the genre's writing and performance styles, but it convinces you that Watts could almost certainly step on stage with any Shakespearean company and own the room with integrity.

Likewise with the numerous songs in the show. The lyrics bounce between brilliant and funny (with regular overlap between the two), and have wicked beats and hooks. With just his voice, loop machine and tiny keyboard, Watts can stand-in for a rap super-group, an opera company, a jazz combo, or a worldbeat music festival, and the listener is no worse off for it. Plus, he can dance. And I don't just mean like he can get down - which he can - I mean he is a really excellent mover.

So, there we go: Reggie Watts has the goods. And he is the heart of the show. But what about the show?

It was unclear to me whether or not there were any "take away" ideas in 'Transition' that I was supposed to absorb. I suspect not. And I didn't catch any over-arching thematic unity or conceptual through lines. I also feel pretty comfortable classifying the show as non-narrative (that one was a gimme). None of these things are implicitly problematic, but I will cop to a certain skepticism about pieces that relish in defying conventional coherence. Shows in this category can theoretically derive their momentum and aggregate impact from any number of other non-linear difficult-to-articulate elements, and sometimes do. Nine (at least) times out of ten, however, they just suck because creators lacking focus and work ethic often hide behind this formless form.

Thank God the creative team behind 'Transition' has nothing to hide. This show is a rare example of what can go right when competent capable people decide to navigate absurd collage in a thoughtful way. There is plenty to not get here, but if one is willing to go along for the ride there is a full spectrum of ideas and experiences from the concrete/discrete/causal side of things all the way over to full-blown non sequitur, all spread out like a big theatrical buffet full of 20+ pieces that run the gamut of media and performance styles.

The performers and writing and video and design is so good on a moment-to-moment basis that the show's buoyancy renders confusion a trifling concern. It's an easy show to get happily lost in. And if being lost isn't really your thing, just soak in the show, look at it a bit sideways, and you may just find yourself gawking at the unique internal logic (intended or otherwise), incisive analysis, well-attenuated powers of observation, and copious creative fine-tuning brought to bear in 'Transition'. It is a well-made and deeply committed product of a lot of collective genius.

Kudos to On the Boards for once again investing resources in daring artists taking their work to the next level.

- Andrew Connor