Western Mythology Apr 23, 2010

by Mike P

I moved to the West coast ten years ago. One thing I have always regretted was not traveling by land to get here. I imagine the physical passage through the enormous American landscape to be a profound, challenging, dramatic experience. Much of "Awesome"’s West re-imagines and replicates this romantic journey, the expansive and rocky landscape, an existential ennui through history and consciousness; an epic three-act musical adventure/meditation of isolation and solitude, movement and stasis, memory and fantasy on a grand, operatic scale. The first act begins, rather predictably, within a familiar factory setting consisting of monstrous wooden crates (with apparent sounds of the impending Industrial Revolution) collaged into a series of soaring melodies, winningly led by John Osebold. The crates are containers of the universe, tiny dioramas of mythic dreams, with one spectacular reference to Manifest Destiny. Throughout the piece, everyone moves like ghosts, perhaps mythical characters we’ve read in elementary social studies classes.   I guess one of the more popular aspects of the "Awesome" aesthetic is their collective boyish charm, exhibited by the jokey bits, monologues that shine light on their vulnerability and their humor, but for me these moments get tiresome and stop the momentum and power of their movement, visuals, and music. The second, and most intriguing act of the three, is surprisingly dark and moody as the crates have now become an amazing mobile landscape, slowly moving land masses that shift and shape before us. The movement of the set is simple (no trickery here) but effectively nauseating, unsettling, frightening, moving in tandem with the rumbling, wild, and discordant live music. The depths of loneliness and emotional angst is palpable, as if the audience is forced to experience the disorienting effects of isolation in the wilderness, the madness of the explorer, ominously illustrating the fear of the unknown. This cryptic middle sets the stage for the final act, expanding the tiny dioramas to the entire stage, which begins with a boom and progresses with more stunning visuals. I am thankful for the groups’ commitment to allude to ideas of "The West" that is universally resonant and recognizable, but allowed for more abstract ideas to come forward that was more subtle, unusual, mysterious that didn’t resolve to define "The West" but instead was more like dreamlike expression of "The West" of the imagination. The whole evening is a little longer than it should be, some parts that are too cute for their own good. But there are many amazing moments in West, handily crafted by director Matthew Richter who has led "Awesome" to their most ambitious, most cinematic, most well-executed, most interesting work to date. -Mike P