Sunday, March 30, 2008

Theatre: Stories and Accordions

How? How? Why? Why? Why? by Kevin Kling, Directed by David Esbjornson, Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 13- April 19, 2008

So one of the joys of season tickets is a performance like this - you're in the audience because you bought the rest of the package, along with the Moliere and the Shakespeare and bit by the guy who wrote "Tuesday Afternoons with Morrie", not because you're expecting great things from this particular play. And indeed, a monologue from a Minnesotan who's a feature on NPR, with accordion accompaniment is not the sort of thing I'd donate a Sunday afternoon to in and of itself - in fact it feels - vaguely familiar.

And then the lights go down and Kevin Kling comes out, and, by twists and turns and stories and punchlines, makes it a worthwhile and delightful experience. Immediately you notice that he is disabled, a birth defect giving him with an asymmetric form and a twisted, shortened left arm. But soon you realize that his right arm is also paralyzed, due to a motorcycle accident. And thereby hangs a number of tales about life and death and hope.

Kling loops his stories back upon themselves. He starts off fictionally, with the tale of a young farmer badly injured in a motorcycle wreck that turns his farm into his art, then moves on to his own, similar, personal experience, inviting comparison between his earlier fiction and his later fact. Along the way he covers love, art, mortality, god, prayer, the power of cocktail weinees, and the nature of the dachshund.

Kling invokes a lot of common ground with me. Not only the mild Fargo-esque, Yaheydere accents of the northern chunk of the country, but the time and events of my own childhood - valentines and little leagues and band and go carts and carnivals for muscular dystrophy. And he also spins in references to Victor Hugo and Dante, and though he doesn't do a name check with Joe Campbell, he keeps returning to the story of the Hero's Journey, where the protagonist enters the underworld and emerges victorious but changed.

Kling is aided and abetted by accordionist Simon Perrin, who acts not only as musical interlude and greek chorus, but sounding board and respondent, taking on Sunday School teacher, old girlfriends, and appreciative audience. Her presence makes it not quite a monologue in the Gray/Daisey tradition, but its not quite a conversation either - its a one-and-a-half person monologue, and it works very, very well. And armed with an accordion, an archaic instrument even in my youth, she belts out a better "Boots" than Nancy Sinatra, and for our performance, an encore of "Ring of Burning Fire" (with Kling on trumpet - yeah, it works).

In the end Kling spins stories and charms us, and when it is all said and done, you're left with a lot of interwoven data that hangs together in a coherent picture, and feeling of hope and promise. And like I said, one of the little joys of season tickets.