Bumps in the Night
Seth Nehil’s alien soundscapes meet nightmarish video in Children’s Games.“I’ve been really enjoying metal for a while,” Seth Nehil said, sipping a black coffee on the patio of a North Killingsworth Street coffeehouse. He wasn’t talking about Slayer. “It’s so resonant,” he said. “Depending on how you strike it or manipulate it, it can either resonate or be really dull. It has a lot of possibilities.”
Nehil, a composer of the musique concrète school, makes a regular habit of striking and manipulating found objects and instruments, chopping up the resulting noises and recombining them into intricate recordings that sound, to my ears, like Gregorian monks rehearsing inside mechanical anthills. The sounds on his most recent album, Knives, came from “leather, blown pipes, ice shards, signal generator, drum kit, drum machine, clapping, breaking glass, bowed acoustic guitar, plucked and bowed hammer dulcimer, Fender Rhodes, snapping twigs, piano, feedback, stones, and field recordings of freezing rain on plastic, a rushing stream, a market in Kyoto,” among other sources, according to the liner notes. This is a man who likes listening.
In recent years, Nehil has moved beyond the borders of his recording studio in audio-visual collaborations with dancers and singers. His latest and most ambitious venture, Children’s Games, moves further into the realm of performance with a spooky video piece, shot by Dicky Dahl, accompanied by live music. The pieces of the work that Nehil has posted to his blog (sethnehil.blogspot.com) are promising: Filthy play in the woods; a white-walled classroom and a blackboard covered in mysterious scrawl; fire; distant howling and scratching.
“I find that often a project is conceived in an instant,” Nehil said. Specifically, Children’s Games emerged from a single issue of The New York Times, in which he says he read both a review of Piers Dudgeon’s Neverland: J. M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan and a piece on runaway teenagers living on the outskirts of Medford. These stories, combined with Nehil’s fascination with François Truffaut’s film The Wild Child and Pieter Bruegel’s painting “Children’s Games,” have percolated over the course of the past two years into a dark pseudo-narrative about a feral child, captured and trained by a scientist, who finds himself caught in a “cinematic nightmare.”
The soundtrack to the nightmare is music composed by Nehil for a six-voice improvisational chorus and an electric noise band, and by Golden Retriever’s Matt Carlson for a violin-viola-synthesizer trio, along with some of Nehil’s usual robo-insect-angel recordings. Nehil himself will sing with the chorus, through what he calls a “broken Radio Shack microphone plugged into a distortion pedal.” The sum of it all should be thoroughly unsettling. “I’ve been listening to the way the voice is used in horror films, which is often grunting and screaming and shouting,” Nehil said. “I think we have a desire to hear those kind of things. We legitimize it though putting it in horror films. It has a reason there, so we feel OK.” We suspect Children’s Games will leave us feeling anything but OK. BEN WATERHOUSE.
SEE IT: Children’s Games at the Mouth Studio, 810 SE Belmont St., sethnehil.artdocuments.org. Friday-Sunday, Oct. 28-30 and Nov. 4-6. Ticket price TBD.
Portland Center Stage’s advance publicity for its big fall musical has focused on director Chris Coleman’s gimmick—the cast, with the exception of “Persian” peddler Ali Hakim, is all black. While some superfans may find the idea unsettling, I don’t think it will change the spirit of the show. Coleman could have cast only obese Japanese cosplayers, but the strangeness of the concept would still be outweighed by the central weirdness of Oscar Hammerstein’s plot. If you pay attention to Oklahoma!—but who pays attention to musicals?—you’ll find a dark, unsettling story of absurdist sexual politics. Coleman’s cast, almost all newcomers to PCS, have impressive résumés. Barring egregious directorial error, it should be a great show. Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700, pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, Sept. 20-Oct. 30, with alternating Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances. $44-$69, $25 students.
No Man’s Land
Artists Rep brings back genuine famous person William Hurt for his fourth show with the Portland company, this time with his son in tow, in a production of Harold Pinter’s strange play about a pair of heavy-drinking old men (played by Hurt and Artists Rep’s artistic director, Allen Nause) who engage in a sort of mnemonic combat, trading at least partially invented memories and lamenting the general decline of things. It’s a comedy, but not a hopeful one. Hurt’s particular brand of grumbling should be well suited to the role of Spooner. Portland favorite Tim True is also in the cast. Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278, artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, Oct. 4-Nov. 6. $25-$60.
The Pain and the Itch
Third Rail Rep’s first production of the season is a brutal comedy by Bruce Norris about a very unpleasant Thanksgiving dinner with a family of self-righteous NPR-listener types: a young couple, their non-speaking daughter, his condescending mother and drunken-doctor brother and the brother’s Russian girlfriend. And a taxi driver, Mr. Hadid, whose life they turn upside down. Third Rail has a history of excellent productions of very funny plays about very mean people. Given the strength of the cast—Valerie Stevens, Damon Kupper, Jacklyn Maddux, Amy Beth Frankel, Duffy Epstein and John San Nicholas—this one should be no exception. Winningstad Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 235-1101, thirdrailrep.org. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, Oct. 14-30. $29.50-$38.50.
Glengarry Glen Ross
Defunkt Theatre excels at producing the sort of plays no company that had to worry about getting butts in seats would touch. Plays, like Mac Wellman’s Crowtet, that divide audiences into camps: bored, confused, afraid. So it seems strange, given the company’s obscure and challenging history, that defunkt should tackle a classic of such stature as Mamet’s 1984 real-estate drama. There must be a twist, you think, and of course there is: Defunkt has cast women in the lead men’s roles. Interesting! What’s next? Alec Baldwin in The Skriker? The Back Door Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 418-2960. 8 pm Thursdays-Sundays, Oct. 14-Nov. 19. $20.