Been Trying To Meet You

Tricklock's Catgut Strung Violin

Anton and his violin.
Anton and his violin.

You may share my fear of charades. Or, more accurately, of what playing charades means. Something about being required to communicate without words, while under strict time constraints is – in the most basic, least hyperbolic sense – horrifying. So horrifying, in fact, that it renders my imagination (which is ordinarily and irritatingly overactive) utterly useless. I’m supposed to act out Debbie Goes To Dallas in a minute? Ha. Right now, as I consider what that would look like, I’m assaulted by semi-viable possibilities of ear-lobe-grabbing and air-drawn outlines. But put me in front of a group, and turn that mini hourglass upside down, and it’s all I can do not to start crying with frustration at the emptiness of my mind.

So, when I witness three actors perform for nearly ninety minutes and speak maybe a thousand* words but recount a story completely, compellingly, vividly – in many ways, more richly than a play of beautiful and relatively constant dialogue – I am captivated. Amazed. And that’s just what happened at Catgut Strung Violin on Thursday evening.

Hold the phone; let’s back peddle a little bit. Not quite as far back as the last time I attempted charades, but to mid-December, when I met with Tricklock Co-Artistic Directors Summer Olsson and Kevin R. Elder. At the time, and largely because I moved to Albuquerque in July, I’d only seen two of the company’s performances, and neither was an original work. (Mac Wellman’s Dracula/SWOOP and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.) Naturally, then, I had little personal frame of reference from which to ask Olsson and Elder what it is, exactly, that defines a Tricklock Production. Their cooperative reply was expansively inclusive and, at the same time, very vague – which is probably how it should be; the breadth of Tricklock’s work just over the course of Revolutions can’t be accurately contained in a single definition. Let alone the collected body of work they’ve crafted over more than a decade.

Not a big fan of facial hair. But that's a pretty sweet mustache.
Not a big fan of facial hair. But that's a pretty sweet mustache.

But watching Catgut, I felt like I was watching the soul of Tricklock materialize. Created by company members Kevin R. Elder, Alex Knight and Elsa Menendez, along with special guest Charles Gamble, Catgut is the tale of a soldier named Anton and his violin. The subject matter is wrenchingly potent, built around elements central both to Anton’s war and to our own – a manipulative draft induction, a mother left behind, a friend lost in battle, an arbitrary ascent to heroism, a narrative circle anchored on the image of war prisoners. And somehow, it’s also humorous in a full-bellied-laugh-out-loud kind of way.

Yet it’s the environment, created by performance and production, that seems so definitively Tricklock. The lighting and the music, the costumes and the set, convey so much despite materially consisting of so little. The story is woven of mannered and expressive physicality; though their words enrich it, it is their actions that carry the plot and their movements that stay with you after the play. Elder’s naïve, eye-brow-raised smiling. Gamble’s machine-gun miming. Knight’s somersault parachuting. Reminiscent of the most animated silent film stars, the trio’s performance is indelible. And memories of it have made me burst into that full-bellied-out-loud laugh countless times over the last few days. (And, as it always seems to happen, when I’m alone in places that aren't – I gather from the looks I solicit – particularly friendly to solitary laughers. Like a bus stop. Or a public restroom. Or a hotel lobby.)

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Catgut is that it captures everything I think of when I think of WAR. And simultaneously introduces an entire war-centric universe that I never would have considered – but that feels, maybe (in a strange way) because of its hilarity, entirely authentic. It’s the perfect equidistance between foreign, familiar and fantastic. Altogether, it’s been one of my favorite Revolutions experiences. And I feel like I can finally say: Tricklock, it’s a distinct pleasure to meet you.

P.S. How about a game of charades?**

P.P.S. To everyone who is not Tricklock: Tonight is the last night of Catgut, at least in Revolutions. It may be sold out, but even if so: It's worth a try to go down to UNM's Theatre X and put your name on the waiting list for the 8:00 p.m. show.

* I suspect, actually, that the words spoken totaled significantly less than a thousand. But just in the interest of caution, we’ll call it a grand.
** Not really. Not ever. Just trying to round out this blog from beginning to end.

SUPER COOL EXTRA: If you can tell me where the title of this blog game from, I'll give you a million points. Which have no redeemable value of any kind. But it's still fun to say you have a million points. Isn't it?