Strong medicine

Journey in Stages: 1 Healing

Written and performed by Fil Straughan
Spotlight On Productions Winter Theatre Festival 2002
Raw Space Theatre M
529 W. 42nd St. (279-4200)
Non-union production (closes Mar. 17)

Fil Straughan took a huge risk mounting a showcase of songs written in response to 9/11, but he pulled it off. The songs range from the downbeat, especially at the beginning, to the almost celebratory. To get the audience to follow him over the rainbow of his emotions, Straughan pulled out all the stops: from getting the audience to clap, to making them sing along, to actually tickling them (and pulling the pen out of my hand).

These are not traditional songs or show tunes such as might be heard in a cabaret; the lyrics are generally not narrative but fragmentary outcries of emotion. The music, too, tends not to be very melodic. At first glance, lyrics not going much further than "Why, tell me why?" weren't very promising, but as the performance progressed and Straughan began to move to a higher gear, with some James Brown moves and delivery, things started to cook.

Straughan's performance technique involves a lot of precise dance moves, including a little dance performed to his own shadow, in counterpoint to repeated figures on the synthesizer. He also used some pantomime, as in a song to an apparently departed lover, sung to an FDNY cap and a jacket. This is intensely personal material and showed Straughan's courage. Scenery, such as it was, consisted of a ratty couch and a table. Lighting was primitive but defined some areas; no more was needed.

His vocal technique sometimes let the emotion smother the words. He relied a lot on a rough lower register at odds with his more polished upper register. He might consider using a choreographer or director to focus some of the busier physical numbers. But his audience responded with enthusiasm, and unbounded emotion won the day. Just what the doctor ordered!

(Lawrence McGovern, keyboards; Russ Stewart, bass; Luciana Padmore, drums; Erick Villagomez, lights.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Performance: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton