Thursday, February 07, 2013

"Shear Madness" is an audience participation mystery at Kennedy Center; Afghan music by Sarmast moved to Concert Hall

Tonight (Thursday, February 07, 2013) I attended an “audience participation” stage comedy in the small (and newly constructed, as of November 2012) Kennedy Center Theater Lab, on the terrace level. 
The play is “Shear Madness”, by Paul Portner. 
You walk into the amphitheater and see an intimate stage, a hair salon, decked out in garish colors (especially pink).   I’ll give a link for the characters here. Tony (Brad Letson) is the stereotyped gay hairdresser who runs the place, as the other characters play “we come and go”.  Pretty soon Nick (Thomas Keegan), a cop, comes in and wants a shave.  (The play doesn’t go into a space that it could here.  Think about it – repeatable shaving isn’t possible in a stage piece, at least without props.)  There is some dicey comedy, mention of Sweeney Todd, while we hear Rachmaninoff Preludes (from Op. 23) coming into the space from apparently an upstairs apartment.  Soon we learn that the elderly female concert pianist who lives upstairs has been murdered.  Someone in the salon has to have done it.

Now the dialogue has lots of cute metaphors, adjusted for Washington DC and its politics (particularly issues like the Fiscal Cliff).  The play, of course, can be fitted to any major city (like the Big Apple). 

Forty minutes into the play, Nick has the audience lights turned on, and invites the audience to participate questioning the suspects.  You really have to pay attention to minute details. 

There is an intermission, where you can talk to the actors.  About 20 minutes after the intermission. Nick takes a vote.  Then the actors ad-lib the ending for the suspect.  It can’t be the cops. 

The entire event runs about 100 minutes.  

The whole setup is like the 1985 Paramount movie “Clue”, where the DCD offers alternate endings. (See movies, Aporil 3, 2012).    
The Kennedy Center had advertised that the Afghanistan National Institute of Music would perform on the Millennium stage.  I got there at 6 PM and found that you had to pick up free tickets as soon as possible after 5 PM to get into the Concert Hall.  I hadn’t noticed that on the Kennedy Center link there earlier this week, but it is there right now (as of 11 PM Thursday night).  I could only see a plasma TV screen with the orchestra from the atrium below the steps and barely hear the music.  I wonder why the Kennedy Center didn’t mount the plasma TV screen on the Millennium stages so that more people could hear it (or play it on their computers in the Hall of State). 
The music program consists of “Da zemong Ziba Watan” by Awal Mir and Saim Sarmast, an Afghan folk song “O Badim Chashman”, an Indian raga, William Harvey’s adaptation of a traditional Lariya for violin, rubab and chamber orchestra, Vivaldi’s Four Season’s (I could hear that on the floor OK), and Sarmast’s adaptation of “Shakako jan”.  All of the music (except the Vivaldi) is based on traditional folk music.
Someone said that the BBC was recording the event, which could mean that it may be shown soon on PBS or HBO.  Here is a good BBC link discussing the Kabul academy, here

Here is a file with MP3 downloads of some of Sarmast’s music, link

This YouTube video seems to play music resembling what was played tonight, link

AlJazeera has a 47 minute film “Dr. Sarmast’s Muisc School”, Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music (ANIM).  That’s the best video I can find quickly and embed to show what is happening.

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