According to my dictionary, a “fricative” is a consonant, such as “f” or “s” in English, produced by the forcing of breath through a constricted passage. Performance Gallery’s contribution to Fringe 2008 is a show with this word as its title, and “sound poetry” as its content. What you’ll see in the Black Box theater at SCPA is eight performers, four men and four women, in most black formal attire — as if about to perform a musical recital. They are sober-faced and stand neatly arranged behind music stands. But what you’ll hear is neither formal nor sober: It’s a riot of nonsense syllables, sort of a May Festival on drugs or poetic scat.
The performers’ delivery is serious, well enunciated and impeccably rendered. The four selections offered make no linguistic sense, although what we hear are the building blocks of words. They sound as if they might be drawn from another language. “Kwee-ay?” they ask at various intervals. Is that “qui est?” in French, perhaps, “what is …?”
(Photo: Mikki Schaffner)
The first piece is actually a composition created by Kurt Schwitters in the 1920s, “The Ur Sonata,” a collection of “primitive sounds.” Following principles of Dadaism, an anti-art movement, the Performance Gallery cast has de-constructed the work and re-assembled it according to their own designs. They hum; they chant. The ensemble’s delivery is rhythmic at times, harmonic at others. Sometimes there are sequential utterances. At other times they spit out solo lines in rapid-fire. Sometimes there are bursts of complete cacophony. Much of this feels as if there must be meaning just below the surface — “Flush kala ballabash zack hitti zapp!” — especially because the speakers interpret the sounds with varied expression and emotion. (Director Brian Andrews-Griffin performed another version of “Ur Sonata” with Aretta Baumgartner and Michael G. Bath during the very first Cincinnati Fringe in 2004; all three are part of the current ensemble.)
They offer another piece which doesn’t even use syllables, but mouth noises — clicking, smacking, swishing, sucking, kissing (even — amusingly — a fit of coughing). One selection splits the group in half and pits them competitively against one another with Andrews-Griffin conducting. To conclude, “The Calming End of it All,” has the group lying on their backs on the floor, heads together, bodies forming spokes. They breathe, giggle, murmur and sigh in various patterns leading to a finale.
The selections are performed with artistry and passion by Andrews-Griffin and seven others — Bath and Baumgartner plus Jodie Linver, Regina Pugh, Willemien Patterson, Nathan Singer and Derek Snow — several of whom are accomplished local professional actors. The 45-minute performance is remarkably different than anything else you will see during Fringe 2008.
— Rick Pender