Thursday, January 27, 2011

PuSh Review #6: Gloria's Cause at Club PuSh

In New York this past fall all the talk was of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, the emo-rock musical based on the outsized life of the seventh President of the United States that began at the Public before transferring to Broadway for a brief run. But here on the west coast, Seattle-based Dayna Hanson was quietly putting together an even more subversive dance-pop deconstruction of the American Revolution. Gloria's Cause premiered at On the Boards in early December 2010, and now arrives in Vancouver as the lead-off production at Club PuSh, the PuSh Festival's sidebar program at Peformance Works, which presents experimental, highly theatrical, multi-disciplinary work in a more intimate, cabaret-style setting--complete with licensed bar and live music after most evenings' marquee events.

I can't begin to do justice to the complexity of this piece. Combining theatre, dance, music, and multi-media projections, Hanson and her company of incredibly talented performers (everyone plays a musical instrument, many more than one) take the rhetoric and iconography inherited from 1776 (a bald eagle mask is put to hilarious use) and subject it to contemporary interrogation. What does it mean to be free? What is the price of that freedom? And what is the difference between freedom to and freedom from? These and other questions form the core of a series of disconnected scenes and tableaux from the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period (some instantly recognizable, others more obscure) that are deliberately anachronistic in their temporal and narrative juxtapositions, as well as their scenography: Mohawk alliances being negotiated with the French and English in a contemporary board room setting; a drunken George Washington defending himself on a Jerry Springer-style talk show; and so on. In this way, Hanson's creative method is very Benjaminian in its approach to history, constellating moments from the past as part of the present precisely in order to shock viewers out of a passive acceptance of the status quo and to arm them with the tools to take political action in the "hear-and-now."

To this end, the timeliness of this show is one of its most insistent messages. From the Tea Party to Iraq, and from Tucson to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night: watching Gloria's Cause in light of recent events in the United States is to understand what a long and unresolved shadow the thirteen colonies' difficult transformation into a nation still casts over American politics. As well as, to quote Benjamin, what it "means to take control of a memory [whether true or false], as it flashes in a moment of danger" ("On the Concept of History" VI).

Gloria's Cause runs for only one more performance, tonight at 8 pm. Afterwards, Hanson and friends will rock the house with a live musical set starting at 10 pm. I urge everyone who might read this blog in the next few hours to head on down to Performance Works to catch both acts. You will not be disappointed.


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