Paper Wing soars with multi-media rock opera The Wall: A Live Tribute.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Near the end of Paper Wing Theatre’s The Wall: A Live Tribute, Pink, a rock star on the edge of oblivion, begins roping his arm to shoot heroin while singing “Nobody Home.” After emptying the syringe, he nods off while people close to him – not necessarily emotionally, but those within his lonely sphere – try to revive him. Then they freeze as Pink rises from his chair and zooms about the room with his arms out, only to plop back into the chair and back into unconsciousness as he sings, “I’ve got… faded roots.”
The scene offers a literal dramatization of the power of chemical intoxication, and a bold act of performance art, all in one. It’s one of many powerful scenes inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a groundbreaking 1979 double album riddled with issues of war, childhood abandonment and oppression, rock star alienation and drug addiction, each hurdle representing one brick of an emotional wall in the life of the protagonist, Pink.
In 1982 the album was masterfully adapted into a film by Alan Parker. Now, Paper Wing Theatre – not one to shy away from challenging projects like its 2007 take on Stanely Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – adapts the 26-song work, one of the five best-selling all-time albums in the U.S., and Parker’s film into a mixed-media musical called The Wall: A Live Tribute. With it, director Koly McBride pulls off one of the theater company’s most impressive productions to date.
The story surrounds a fictional rock star named Pink (Paper Wing pillar Lj Brewer), as he revisits the demons of his childhood and plunges into a hallucinatory world of his own hell. The musical opens with “In the Flesh,” a vision in which Pink sees himself as the leader of a xenophobic, fascist regime. Brewer belts out the first line of the song with a clenched fist – “So you thought you might like to go to the show” – displaying a firm grasp of the album and the primal impulses of the protagonist.
The minimalist set – dominated by white brick walls and a large projection screen – is sparse, like an empty canvas inviting the lighting effects and the singing and choreography to “paint” upon it.
During most of the musical, pre-recorded video footage is projected onto the screen. It features visually mixed-up but thematically unified montages of strange art, Bush, Nixon, police brutality, pastoral shots of a girlfriend at the park, and vignettes of the actors shot in various Peninsula locales, in synch with the costumes and songs deployed on stage. The tag-team between live actor and video is well integrated and adds a welcome dimension to the production.
As Pink sings “Mother,” he forlornly watches his childhood self, Young Pink, on the screen playing alone in the park while another little boy plays with his father, as if it were an introspective TV show starring his own painful memories.
Then Young Pink (9-year-old Seth Thomas Moore) walks out from behind the screen to watch the footage with his adult counterpart.
Brewer’s performance, veering from anguish to triumph to apathy, isn’t the only one that stands out. Moore shows a depth that’s rare in child actors; aside from hitting all his lines, his intensity is stoic, evident from his facial expressions and even in the way he stands.
“Another Brick in the Wall II” is probably the most well-known Pink Floyd song and one of the best scenes in the play. It’s another one featuring young and old Pink, revisiting those oppressive years in British grade school.
“We don’t need no education,” sings a chorus of school chums in parochial uniforms as they march like zombies. “We don’t need no thought control.”
The second act of the musical climbs even higher than the first, beginning with “One of My Turns,” which marks Pink’s total submersion into a dark, alternate reality. Alyssa Garland, who plays one of Pink’s groupies, tries to coax Pink out of his lethargic, nearly comatose state by grinding on his lap and sensually suckling his fingers while he softly utters the opening lines to the song. Then, Pink bursts into hysteria: “Run to the bedroom, in the suitcase to the left you’ll find my favorite axe!”
“Comfortably Numb” is accompanied by a simple and brilliant video segment of a paper airplane sailing along. But the ensemble on “Bring the Boys Back Home” is rousing, topped only by the reprise of “In the Flesh,” which brought cheers to the audience.
The glue that holds the production together is West, a newly formed, four-piece band led by 20-year-old keyboardist Corey Watkins. Elevated high above the action like witnesses to a Greek tragedy, West plays Roger Waters’ complex compositions with a precision that seamlessly carries the production from scene to scene. Even after the production ends, the music continues to swirl inside the skull to the point of intoxication.
THE WALL: A LIVE TRIBUTE runs 8pm Thu-Sat until Oct. 31 (midnight on Halloween) at The Paper Wing Theatre, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey. $22. 905-5684, www.paperwingtheatreco.com