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Author Topic: New York Times: 'Speeding Motorcycle' a hit  (Read 9495 times)
jason
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« on: June 13, 2006, 07:50:36 PM »

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/14/arts/music/14spee.html

Infernal Bridegroom Has a Hit With 'Speeding Motorcycle'

HOUSTON, June 13 — The punk-rock club where Infernal Bridegroom Productions stages its shows is in a rough neighborhood, far from this city's velvet-curtained theater district. So it is not surprising that the troupe's latest offering, "Speeding Motorcycle," is equally far from some of the traditional fare offered at the city's more conventional sites.
 
"We have stranger tastes than the norm," said Anthony Barilla, Infernal Bridegroom's artistic director. The company's founder, Jason Nodler, wrote and directed "Speeding Motorcycle," which features several actors playing the role of Joe Boxer, a man who has lost his mind after being rejected by the woman he loves. Flat-top, plasticine headgear gives the impression that the crowns of their heads have been chopped off, leaving a black, felt-lined nothingness inside. Captain America and Casper the Friendly Ghost make cameo appearances. The score, meanwhile, ricochets from toe-tapping, feel-good songs to discordant, despairing dirges, a reflection of Mr. Johnston's bipolar disorder.

This unusual production has won over critics. Everett Evans wrote in The Houston Chronicle last week that " 'Speeding Motorcycle' should be the cult hit of Houston's summer."

 Many in the audience have been first-time theatergoers, lured by Mr. Johnston's music. "He's the most important songwriter you've never heard of," Mr. Nodler said.

Mr. Johnston, 45, who lives with his parents in Waller, Tex., about an hour northwest of Houston, has a cultlike following, with a fan Web site (rejectedunknown.com) full of gushing posts by admirers from as far away as Japan. His crude home recordings are considered underground classics, and his pen and Magic Marker drawings were featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. A documentary about him won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.

At a recent performance of "Speeding Motorcycle," scores were turned away at the door. Many moped around outside, hoping someone might leave at intermission.

In a telephone interview Mr. Johnston described it as "very cool" and said he had seen the show three times.

Infernal Bridegroom (the name comes from a line in an Arthur Rimbaud poem) was founded in 1993 to develop new audiences by producing hard-edged and challenging plays. But Mr. Nodler, who returned to the company after a peripatetic three-year hiatus to work on "Speeding Motorcycle," said, "More than anything, we do plays that we desperately want to do."

The 22-member company's choice of material is often "underground" or "just ahead of a trend," said Steven Devadanam, who covers the local arts scene for The Houston Press, a weekly newspaper here. An example, he said, was "Me-Sci-Ah," which Infernal Bridegroom presented in 2004. Written by one of the company's associate artistic directors, Troy Schulze, it was a sendup of Scientology, poking particular fun at Tom Cruise. "That was way before the Tom Cruise bashing started," Mr. Devadanam said.

Those inside the Houston theater community agree that Infernal Bridegroom productions are ahead of the curve and adventurous. "They take risks with obscure titles and originate a lot of their own work," said Sidney Berger, director of the School of Theater at the University of Houston, who has acted at the Alley Theater here and was artistic director of the local Stages Repertory Theater. In 2000 Infernal Bridegroom was the first to stage Suzan-Lori Parks's "... A," about an abortionist forced to wear a scarlet letter. Relatively unknown then, Ms. Parks later won a Pulitzer Prize for "Topdog/Underdog" in 2002.

"Some of the stuff they do works better than others," Mr. Berger said. "Regardless, they make the rest of us look at our choices and perhaps push us to maybe consider other things."

Carolyn White, a computer support specialist, and her husband, Doug, who were at a recent performance of "Speeding Motorcycle," said they attended various shows in Houston almost every weekend. "Infernal Bridegroom has a freshness and sense of spontaneity you don't see at other theaters in town," said Ms. White, who is from New York and described herself as a theater buff. "This is what you'd call off, off, way off Broadway."

Although Infernal Bridegroom now leases the dilapidated and eerie-looking punk club, the group was homeless for its first seven years. Mr. Nodler said it performed in parking lots and even had a roving performance on a school bus. Though known for its dark — or, as Mr. Nodler puts it, "blood on the tracks" — productions, Infernal Bridegroom gained regional renown for a series of zany musical revues called "Tamalalia," based on the life of one of the company's core members, Tamarie Cooper, who is now an associate artistic director. A cross between Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball in appearance (as well as in performance style), Ms. Cooper wrote, directed, choreographed and starred in the shows.

The annual "Tamalalia" performances (10 in all) were wildly popular, and the receipts helped keep the company afloat during lean times, Mr. Barilla, the artistic director, said. The company, which is nonprofit, is supported by ticket sales (not easy in an 85-seat theater) and grants from local and national foundations. "Speeding Motorcycle" was made possible by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation's Multi-Arts Production Fund. As in all Infernal Bridegroom's performances, a band made up of local rock musicians provides accompaniment, and the actors are mostly company members.

 "We develop a lot of talent from people who call up wanting to volunteer," Ms. Cooper said. An example is A. J. Ware, who started out painting sets, graduated to operating the soundboard and is now a member of the company with a commanding stage presence. During "Speeding Motorcycle," Ms. Ware had the audience clapping and swaying as she belted out a gospel-inspired tune by Mr. Johnston.

"A number of our students are working at Infernal Bridegroom,"  Mr. Berger, of the University of Houston School of Theater, said. "They tend to attract young people with a quirky approach — not the kind who would usually be cast in a major role. But they welcome that quirkiness and develop it into something interesting."
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jason
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« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2006, 11:55:56 AM »

More:

http://houstonpress.com/Issues/2006-06-15/culture/theater.html

Moving Motorcycle

IBP's new original show is a strange, wonderful surprise

                                                                                                                                                                                               
By Lee Williams

Article Published Jun 15, 2006

He's back! Jason Nodler, the founding artistic director of Infernal Bridegroom Productions, has returned to Houston and the Axiom to direct Speeding Motorcycle, a surprisingly sweet rock opera, which Nodler adapted from songs by Daniel Johnston, with grant monies from the Rockefeller Foundation. For the uninitiated, Johnston is a cult musician-artist who's been written up everywhere from Texas Monthly to The New York Times.  His ink and felt-tip drawings featuring Captain America, among other familiar figures, sell for upwards of $5,000, and his quirky rock and roll tunes have influenced the likes of Kurt Cobain. Not bad for a dude who lives in Waller, Texas, where he continues to write and draw despite the fact that he suffers from severe bipolar disorder. 

As one might expect, Johnston's musical world is inflected with mental illness and the extreme loneliness severe depression can bring. He writes often of unrequited love, deep despair and death. So it is a strange and altogether wonderful surprise that the story Nodler has constructed out of Johnston's powerful music is nothing if not uplifting.   

 The weirdly moving tale focuses on a man who falls in love with an undertaker. After she marries another undertaker, our hero -- who goes by the unlikely name of Joe the Boxer and is played by three different actors (Kyle Sturdivant, Cary Winscott and Joe Folladori) -- doesn't know what to do. When he hits his head in a motorcycle accident, he realizes that the best way to attract his lover's attention might be to die. After all, she is an undertaker.   

 As maudlin as this might sound (and Johnston's songs are often so woeful they can move the listener to tears), the utterly unpredictable story turns in some fascinating directions. Angels appear. So do preachers. We watch an undertaker care for a dead body. And somehow all this gets happier and happier. One might read this musical as mimicking the emotional manic-depressive roller coaster that bipolars ride. But it is sweeter to think of this show as the least ironic production Nodler has ever created.   

 Unquestionably, there's a disarming innocence in this music, a willingness to reveal vulnerabilities that Nodler and his cast capture with a straightforward, almost childlike delivery (Winscott has an especially tender and honest voice). And Anthony Barilla's musical direction is rich with charmingly eccentric choices, starting with a fabulous opening featuring a stage full of performers strumming acoustic guitars.   

 As is common in Nodler's work, the technical choices are visually arresting and develop the imaginative leaps in the story beautifully. Marcia Yingling's costumes and Kirk Markley's set evoke a cartoonish world full of fluffy clouds and goofy characters (including Captain America). Estrangement, loss and a bizarre desire for unadulterated happiness all come across in this oddly flat landscape. It's a world where death can be a nice place, and unrequited love can cut down to the spine and fill you with satisfying pain all at once.   

 The last 20 minutes of the show offer a short concert of Johnston's music. You can drink beer and bop along to the rangy tunes. And once the music is over and you wander off into the balmy night, you will likely feel the sort of infectious charge one might get during a fast midnight ride on a Harley.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2006, 11:56:38 AM by jason » Logged
ghostjr.
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« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2006, 02:29:21 PM »

funny thing is that houston has never ever embraced danny, even though he's lived just outside of the area for over 10 years now. i always wondered why it was that noone gave a **** about such a great songwriter and artist in those parts. something is wrong with houston, texas...
we've seen shows that danny's played in houston where no more than 5 folks showed up. nice to know that houston is 20 years behind the 3rd world countries of the world.
jason,
your number was misplaced by a friend of mine when you called...know who i am? call again so that we can have that drink.
for those who haven't guessed it yet this play is a mind-blower from the initial parting of the curtain, thru the band of joe's in the encore. good to see that at least a few folks in houston aren't dorks.
nice work...
-ghost jr.
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jason
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« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2006, 02:59:30 PM »

we've seen shows that danny's played in houston where no more than 5 folks showed up.

jason,
your number was misplaced by a friend of mine when you called...know who i am? call again so that we can have that drink.
for those who haven't guessed it yet this play is a mind-blower from the initial parting of the curtain, thru the band of joe's in the encore. good to see that at least a few folks in houston aren't dorks.
nice work...
-ghost jr.

I hear you, man.  I was one of the five people at those shows (one or two were at our theater) and I never understood it either.

Yeah, I know who you are.  I'd say it out loud, but I don't want to blow your cover.  Thanks again for coming to the show.  It meant a lot to us that you came out and even more that you liked it.  I'll give you a call again soon.  Looking forward to getting together.
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2006, 08:21:27 AM »

I saw last night's show and it was like stepping into a universe where everyone knows all of Daniel's songs. Everything about it was extraordinary and I can't wait to see it again.
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HowdyHowRU
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2006, 07:16:03 PM »

I agree with the New York Times.  Speeding Motorcycle is a hit.

I was struck by how good the performances of Daniel's songs were.  The three actors who played Joe the Boxer all seemed as if they had been listening to the tapes for years.  The arrangements transfered the beauty of the songs into a theater setting extremely well.  Additionally, the story hung together, and was true to its inspiration, and the set and costumes captured the spirit of many of Daniel's favorite images. 

After the show the cast and crew performed a short 8-10 song Daniel Johnston Hoot Night in the bar/lobby of the theater.

Anybody who is on this board, and has a chance should see this show.  It is a remarkable presentation of Daniel's music.  Good job IBP.
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jason
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« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2006, 09:07:28 AM »

Stress & Howdy:

Thanks for making the trip out and thanks for the kind words.

For those who missed the show the first time around (or those who just want to see it again), we'll be back in August.

www.infernalbridegroom.com for info.  Tickets are going fast.  Hope to see some of you there.
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« Reply #7 on: June 27, 2006, 02:36:44 PM »

Jeff,

Grow up and take out the sig file line.  Once again you look like an asshole.
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jason
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« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2006, 06:50:10 PM »

The remount of SPEEDING MOTORCYCLE has been extended through September 2nd, but tickets are going fast.  The opening Friday and Saturday have already sold out.  Go to infernalbridegroom.com for reservations.
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jason
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« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2006, 04:58:36 PM »

Just a quick reminder that SPEEDING MOTORCYCLE returns this Thursday, August 10 and runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through September 2.  Opening weekend is sold out and the rest of the performances are filling up fast.  Make your reservations now if you haven't already.  713-522-8443 or www.infernalbridegroom.com.
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