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14 February 2005

A couple of the reviews I read said:

Framed by a Dresher score that integrates hyper-kinetic, minimalist funk, mysterious atmospheres, gamelan cycles, and some burning electric guitar, Eckert gives a mesmerizing recitation... psychotic in its raw power."


A haunting musical monodrama about a paranoid-delusional man and his search for values in a rapidly changing world, "Slow Fire" blends the forms of opera, rock, and post-minimalist electronic music, pushing the boundaries of music theatre to a new and breathtaking breakthrough. "Slow Fire" makes much celebrated post-modern music theatre seem not just impressionistic, but escapist by comparison

What in the hell was I doing reviewing this show?  This would be a test of either my powers of observation and all that I've managed to pick up over the past four years, or it would test how well I could bluff my way through a review.  In either case, I didn't feel comfortable about it.

The show was held in a small workshop theatre in the big university theatre complex.  A glance at the parking lot told me that it wasn't exactly going to be sold out (though, surprisingly, it was fuller than I expected).

Inside the theatre there was a big white 3-panel screen in front of a slanted platform.   On either side of the platform were banks of electronic musical equipment.

The lights dimmed.  A spotlight shone on the white screen. A hand reached up over the top of the screen.   Then another hand appeared on one side and then the other.  The two sides of the screen were taken away by two men, who laid them on the ground.  The remaining screen slowly tipped and fell forward onto the ground, scattering the body outline which had been made out of tiny pieces of paper.  It fell with a resounding thud, the man behind it still attached to it.

The bald man, dressed in olive fatigues, slowly picked himself up staggered around and began speaking gibberish.

I groaned.  This was going to be a very long night.

This was "Slow Fire," written by Paul Dresher and performed by "performance artist" Rinde (pronounced RIN-dee) Eckert, a man who has learned well from his heroes, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel.

When Jeri learned that I would be seeing something by Rinde Eckert, she warned that "anything by Rinde Eckert and Paul Dresher is bound to be bizarre and confusing.  So don't feel bad when you come away confused."  She had encountered the two during her years working in theatre in San Francisco.

I decided to just do the best I could of it.  I really had no other choice.

To my great surprise, I began to enjoy it.  Yes, it's weird and yes, it takes a bit of getting used to.  And yes, you probably have seen nothing like it in your life. 

At intermission, I kept my ears pealed for comments from the audience and got the impression that everyone else was trying to figure it out too.  Some people didn't return after intermission.

The second half was easier to follow and kind of made the first half make more sense.  Eckert has a magnificent baritone voice, when he sang, and the melodic passages were beautiful. 

While there is no "story line" per se, it examines the relationship between a father and his son, all "guy stuff," with power tools and guns and wooden decoys for duck hunting.  It also is a satirical look at America in the 1980s, with the demise of the family farm, and our involvement in Southeast Asia.   Of course you have to kind of think to figure this out.  I had a lot of help by staying for the "artist encounter" following the performance, where Eckert and Dresher, as well as their director, Richard E.T. White, sat and talked about the development of the project, changes that had been made in this version of it, and asked for feedback from the audience.

"It was kind of weird--but I liked it," Walt said, as we left the theatre.  I told him that I felt the same way.

To my great surprise, when I got home, the review kind of rolled off my fingers.  Oh, it was nothing on the level of the previous reviews, but then I don't have the background or the expertise to know "true genius" when I see it, so I'm not going to go that route.  But I did talk about how I felt about the production and admitted that I was coming from the direction of someone who had never experienced this kind of theatre before.

Jeri said that it was a good review and would make her want to see the production, which I consider high praise, since I value her opinion on stuff like this.

If you would like to read the review, you can see it here.

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Here's a little gift from me to you.


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Rinde Eckert in a moment from "Slow Fire"

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