The playbill was the least satisfying thing about the show

Here’s what I knew about YOUARENOWHERE before I saw it:

  1. Team Maxamoo praised it to the heavens. (I knew they absolutely loved it, but I didn’t actually listen to the episode in which they discussed it, so I didn’t know why.)
  2. It’s a one man show that involves a physics lecture somehow

I love the Maxamoo folks, so I went ahead and bought a ticket based on their recommendation. And now I’m in a quandary about writing a review. I have quite a bit to say, but I don’t really want to say any of it. To be honest, I’m really glad I walked in to YOUARENOWHERE knowing very little. This is a show that really benefits from going in cold, so I worry anything I say will detract from the piece itself. My official recommendation: stop here and go get a ticket (London-based readers: it’s coming to you too!) Then call me and we can discuss it.

YOUARENOWHERE (according to a NY Times article, you can read this as “You are now here” or “you are nowhere”) is a fragmented, dynamic examination of life-changing moments. Or the moment before death. Or something else that was entirely beyond me. (Unless it wasn’t. I have no idea. I need you all to go see the show so we can discuss this.)

Ugh. I can do a little better than that. Let me start again. Performance artist and designer Andrew Schneider uses light, sound, video, and his very charismatic stage presence in an hourlong performance that manages to make you think and make you feel. He’ll tell you anecdotes, he’ll describe the twelve-step program, but don’t expect a real story. I’m not entirely sure I understood a lot of it. But no matter, because this is one entertaining show, and on several levels. There’s Mr. Schneider’s rapid-fire speech and appealing persona, there’s the incredible technical achievement (including its signature device, a LED frame that blacks out an actor’s face), there are songs and dancing, there’s a bit of physics (the fun kind), and there are the moments of sheer surprise and astonishment. So many elements and it all fused together so well. How much rehearsal and preparation did this thing call for? The mind boggles.

IMG_20160318_122603611Theater doesn’t generally shock me. (To be fair, I probably don’t seek out shocking theater very often.) But my jaw actually dropped at certain moments in the show. And my first thought was: “Ok, I’m coming back to see this again.” Ten minutes later: “Maybe I’ll come see this again twice.” At the end of the show, Mr. Schneider encouraged everyone to stay for a beer and hang out. I hadn’t planned to, but by this point I was ready to do whatever he said. So I stayed for a beer.

At $25, I can’t think of a better deal as far as theater goes. Congratulations to Andrew Schneider. You, sir, have created something beautiful. I hope to go back next week.

>Running Time: 60 minutes
My Grade: A+
Ticket price: $25
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: Yes

Review: The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos

IMG_20160306_082912172I doubt I would have had any interest in seeing The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos had it not been for Hamilton. As I said last year, I had never realized the dramatic possibilities of hip hop until seeing the Founding Fathers rap. So when I was offered press tickets (Hey, press tickets! A first for Show Me Shows!), I thought “Hey, why not? I love theater rap! And free tickets!”

The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is exactly as advertised: an hourlong, mostly rapped show about the world’s greatest crisis. (Think An Inconvenient Truth, basically, in hip hop form.) It’s written and performed by Baba Brinkman, a Canadian white dude who (according to the bio) has written several other Rap Guides (on evolution and religion, for example) and has legit environmental cred: he has planted over a million trees!

And he’s also an impressive performer. Now I don’t know from raps, but he certainly packs in wit, intelligence and scads of information into each of the show’s 24 songs. Throughout, there’s a projection screen behind him with video clips to explain and clarify his arguments. The show is chock full of references to hip hop artists and albums, but all of this would have flown over my head without the helpful projections (Example: “Ok, so he must be making a reference to 2Pac” I thought, as an album cover flashed on the screen). More relevant to Brinkman’s point, though, are the charts and graphs that illustrate what he’s saying. I didn’t understand all of them, but got the gist of it: things aren’t looking good for the planet.

So it’s dense, it’s lively, it’s passionate, it’s interesting. But did I like it? Well, yes and no. Mr. Brinkman’s energy kept me intrigued throughout, but The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is more lecture than theater. It would be a great way to teach kids about climate change, but it does feel a little bit like homework at times.

And despite the fact that facts and figures are so densely packed into this Rap Guide, I actually didn’t particularly feel like it taught me a lot that I didn’t know. Which is a ridiculous thing to say, right? Baba Brinkman clearly knows a ton about climate change, and this show is nothing if not informative. I feel like I must be lying when I say I didn’t learn anything. It could be just the preaching-to-the-choir feel of the thing. More likely, I just didn’t retain all that much. With this type of thing, I understand it better with Al Gore’s methodical and thorough powerpoint (with sad polar bears on ice floes), or a Radiolab back-and-forth conversation, rather than a full-on sensory assault such as Mr. Brinkman’s. At one point, Mr. Brinkman stopped rapping to engage directly with the audience, and I felt a little relieved. It gave me a chance to take things in a bit.

A sidebar: this was also one of the more interesting moments in the show for me personally. Brinkman asks the audience members to give suggestions about other climate change-related issues he should incorporate into the show. One lady said ordering fewer things online would be one way to go. Brinkman dismissed this idea out of hand, calling this sort of sacrifice “moral masturbation.” Government solutions are the only way to really solve anything, he argued. I get his point, but come now. That’s a little harsh! You could make the same argument about voting. (As a vegan, I am probably oversensitive to the accusation of moral masturbation. Oh dear.)

In any case, A Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is compelling, though not exactly memorable. But does it need to be? It certainly has me reengaged with the topic. I have been thinking about climate change frequently in the days since I saw the show. Climate change is tough: it’s such a major issue that it demands consideration, but so daunting that it’s tempting to deal with it later. Easiest just to ignore it and keep ordering stuff off Amazon.

My Grade: B-
Running time: A little over an hour
Ticket price: Free for me.
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: I forgot. I think so?