Director Jonathan Walters and Portland, OR’s Hand2Mouth theater company brought Erin Leddy’s innovative dialogue-with-the-past My Mind is Like an Open Meadow to New York last summer. Their new show, Something’s Got Ahold of My Heart, now at La Mama through Jan. 20, is, aside from its experimental nature and incorporation of music and dance, about as different from that earlier effort as can be – and, alas, not to its benefit.
Here, a cast of six appealing and energetic young performers (including Ms. Leddy) work hard and fast to act out a long series of vignettes on the theme of love and relationships, occasionally jazzed up by amusingly candied raunch. These aren’t dramatic or comic scenes in the traditional sense; a pair of actors embodies each through dance, fight choreography, and other movement while a third performer narrates. With a bright soundtrack of classic pop hits mixed with effective original incidentals by Ash Black Bufflo, the show is bathed in music, even closing with three original songs presented by the whole cast in sparkly glam-rock style.
Unfortunately, it lacks structure and an artistically consistent guiding vision. This forces the cast to work uncomfortably hard to engage the audience; they’re so visibly eager to please it’s almost painful. That’s what comes, I guess, of trying to make a real show out of a series of what feel more like acting-class exercises.
There are entertaining moments along the way, particularly in the first half (before one’s patience wears out). In one sequence, two narrator/questioners writhe into a couple’s circle interrogating them to no avail, climaxing with the eternal mystery, also to remain unanswered: “Why did you fall for him and not somebody else?” In another, a bout of athletic sex devolves into humor (“I’m so chafed!”) while another, more intense couple clashes around the need for a “safe word.”
But these intense moments are too few, and the whole sequence fails to build to anything or add up to the pulsing all-about-love rainbow the show seems to want to be.
I tried hard to make more sense of it. At one point I decided it might pay to think of it as a dance work, but was let down by scenes that didn’t involve dance and others whose movements seemed repetitive or uninspired. At another, I decided I was watching a Dadaist piece, but that conception didn’t last long, as the circumstance of each scene was internally consistent, the overall theme of love insistent. In the end, that worthy theme just petered out with no effect.
Chalk this one up to a misconceived experiment that enthusiasm, performing talent, and even Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” couldn’t make right.
Photo: Hand2Mouth Theatre in “Something’s Got Ahold of my Heart” at La MaMa E.T.C., New York – L-R: Julie Hammond, Maesie Speer, Faith Helma and Matthew Dieckman. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.