This, coming from someone who tends to enjoy weird—I like shows that poke at my comfort zones, that play with intellectual/aesthetic/aural dissonance, that simultaneously please and confound, reemerging in my dreams as the subconscious sorts through a barrage of unfamiliar sounds (Radoslaw Rychcik’s In the Solitude of Cotton Fields), or navigates a vast whiteness with a man in a bunny mask (Christian Rizzo’s b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau).
But El Gallo at On the Boards last weekend was just weird, full stop. Yes, bits were amusing and pretty and moving. The live string octet was a treat. But it didn't connect; it never became clear what director Claudio Valdés Kuri is trying to do with this mélange of song, dance, pathos, and silliness.
The premise is “the challenges a composer and a group of singers face when trying to mount a performance in just 2 weeks.” An awkward, toupeed, frustrated pianist plays sheet music for a lineup of variously quirky performers. One is excessively operatic, ignoring direction as she plows through her song. One is full of gestures, curling his hands and gripping the empty air near his diaphragm, then near his balls (depending which location the pitch demands). Another is emotionally spastic, bursting into tears and screams throughout the show.
The players communicate through their own made-up language—the entire show is spoken/sung in this language, which lifts phonetic elements from the performers’ native tongues (the six of them are from Mexico, France, Japan, and Iran)—leaving the viewer in a state of constant confusion. You know…
Yes, we can glean things from faces, gestures, intonations—but only the slightest idea. They sing, they flop, they weep, they fight, they dance, sometimes in their underwear.
I left the theater with a feeling of “meh” and hoped it would shift as scenes/feelings from the show stuck with me. But now, days later, the only lasting image is the aforementioned toupeed pianist, wearing mom-jeans and dancing by himself in the background. He was pretty great.