Cry You One
Presented by Mondo Bizarro and Artspot Productions at the 2015 International Festival of Arts & Ideas. Directed by Kathy Randels. Designed by Jef Becker and Melisa Cardona. Written by Raymond “Moose” Jackson and Joanna Russo. Music Director: Sean LaRocca. Choreographer: Millicent Johnnie. Costume Design: Bear Hebert and Laura Sirkin-Brown. Banner photographs by Monique Verdin. Performed by Jon Greene, Zohar Pepper-Cunningham, Rebecca Mwase, Lisa Moraschi Shattuck and Nick Slie with Kathy Randels and Sean LaRocca.
Through June 19 at Maltby Lakes, 583 Derby Ave., West Haven. www.artidea.org
In its first twenty four hours, the International Festival of Arts & Idea breathed life into grand old theatrical and musical formats. It gave an outdoor concert stage to the exuberant soul-survivor Darlene Love. It world-premiered a new piece by Taylor Mac, who has brought whole new dimensions to drag-queen theatrics. And it unveiled the long-gestating local variation on the New Orleans-born “processional performance piece” Cry You One. (Still upcoming over the next two weeks: a Handel opera directed by Mark Morris, a 600 Highwaymen piece performed by children and composed by David Cale, circus theater from Machine de Cirque, Roger Guenveur Smith’s Rodney King, Carmen De Lavallade’s autobiographical show, a tribute to local artist/activist Angela Bowen and more.)
This is A&I’s year of original theater. Having attended the fest since its inception (and duly chronicled its history for this year’s 20th anniversary program book), I can attest that while there have been plenty of theater spectacles over the years, the years in which theater events were most plentiful were anchored by classics. Even some of the most avant-garde offerings were rooted in Shakespeare or classic literature. This year, though, is reeling with originality.
Cry You One program description—“an outdoor processional performance with music, dances and stories from the heart of south Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands”—sells it way short. That blurb doesn’t begin to suggest how full-blown a theater piece this is, with tons of dialogue and narrative and interaction and choreography and character development and plot. It also doesn’t let on how universal the story is, flowing well outside the Louisiana borders. The show’s three-hour running time might make you think there’s a lot of downtime—aimless dancing or musical jamming, perhaps—but that’s simply not the case. It’s a very full event.
Events plural, that is. When you arrive at the Maltby Lakes (the Regional Water Authority land at the point where Orange, West Haven and New Haven meet, along Derby Ave. aka Route 34), you are assigned to one of four groups. Each group has a different leader and a different story to tell. After a clear, informative introduction about the crisis of vanishing wetlands (especially in the New Orleans area but indicative of ecological disaster nationwide), the groups split up, disappear into the woods, and are told personal stories of spiritual growth, environmental awareness, social conflict and perseverance. The groups join up throughout the journey for singing, dancing, the viewing of staged performances by the leaders and members of the musical ensemble, and a series of rituals and ceremonies that culminate in a sort of funeral-at-sea (in the air, actually, but with a boat) for the sea itself.
The group I was in was called “Gators,” and was led by a spritely woman named Lisa Moraschi Shattuck who was inhabiting a character named Zelda Culotte. She told a coming-of-age tale involving family, racism, hurricanes, salvation and forgiveness. The tale, and the memories Zelda stirred among the group, genuinely had some of the Gators in tears. My wife Kathleen Rooney went off with the Fox group, and heard a very different story of radicalism, social inequality, wanderlust and self-understanding. The characters presented at the outset of the show lean towards stereotypes—the humorless scientist, the hardworking outdoorsman, the radical, the social worker, the entrepreneur—but their personae immediate deepen, becoming ever more detailed and descriptive as they tell their tales. A lot of the differences among them are dramatized by having them bicker in the more public gatherings. There’s some strong improv at work, and also an admirable desire to keep the show moving at a crisp pace despite the amount of walking and settling down involved.
Cry You One has been performed in several different cities since it first premiered a few years ago. It’s remarkable how well it’s been fitted to the contours and climate of Southwestern Connecticut. The Maltby Lakes region has paths and clearings that are ideal for Cry You One’s more intimate moments, and a big clearing that, with its ominous metal towers and view of the roadway, is perfect for a grand ritualistic dance where the performers confront Big Oil and other threats to land and water. Some areas of the woods have been turned into makeshift stage sets, or art galleries.
As I said, full. Overflowing. Beautifully attuned to its purpose—making you aware of your environment on your own terms. When you can relate, you can care. Cry You One makes that happens, and gives you cause to dance and sing besides.